Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Australian Researchers Held Back in Struggle for Jobs and Funding

Research (Photo credit: suttonhoo)
by Jenni Metcalfe, PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, Department of English, Media Studies & Art History at University of Queensland, The Conversation:

There’s a lot of bitterness, anger and frustration out there in the world of Australian research.

A new survey has shown that researchers like their work, but not the system in which they work. It’s the lack of certainty of employment; the overly-competitive race for grants, fellowships and jobs; and (for more senior people) the onerous burden of teaching and administration.

Of the 1200 researchers who completed the survey, nearly 80% said they found a career in research as “very” or “reasonably” attractive. The best features were working on interesting and important issues, and working in a stimulating environment.

Working on challenging problems, finding solutions, and making a difference and helping people are all attractive features of a research career.

The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) was commissioned to conduct the survey and eight focus groups by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation. The aim was to identify the pressure points in the research career pathway and identify possible solutions.

Respondents were asked to identify the best and the worst of the Australian research system. On the good side, they nominated the PhD stipend that allows graduate students to make a start.

But they were four times more likely to identify bad aspects of the system, where uncertain job prospects tops the list. Over 80 per cent of respondents say there is too much reliance on short-term contracts.

As one respondent puts it:
“Job uncertainty is appalling, we are the most educated people in the country and we can barely provide for our family and have at most three to four years job stability. This is extremely stressful.”
Another said she had chased three contract jobs across three different states in two years. This is not unusual, and family life has to fit somewhere. Experiences like this are forcing researchers to consider better-paying but less imaginative pursuits.

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