Early-career researchers in Australia are miserable at work


A young scientist working in a laboratory in Brisbane, Australia.Credit: Getty

Australian early-career scientists, including postdoctoral researchers and already independent researchers, are less satisfied with their jobs and work culture than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey found.1.

The study was led by Katherine Christian, Research Manager, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. The author examined responses from more than 500 of her participants who worked in research institutions and received PhDs in the last 10 years. Only 57% of respondents reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their job, whereas in a similar survey in 2019 she said 62% said the same.

More than three-quarters of respondents say now is a bad time to start a science career, up from nearly two-thirds in 2019. “It speaks for itself,” says Christian. The survey also found growing concerns about workload and “alarming” bullying rates.

“Melancholy” story

David Voe, a biomedical researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medicine in Parkville, Australia, said the survey’s measurements on factors such as job satisfaction, workload and experiences of bullying were staggering. “Everything seems to be going wrong,” says Vaux.

The results reflect the results of many international surveys of academic scientists, including the 2020 Welcome Report on the experiences of 4,000 researchers. Nature2021 Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2021 Policy Paper on Job Security in Global Scientific Enterprises. These efforts highlight that most researchers love their jobs, but they also raise deep concerns about the workplace, including the harsh effects of a competitive career environment, discrimination and prejudice, and lack of institutional support. I’m holding

career challenges

Australia faces particular challenges in its research community. Although we award a large number of science doctorates each year, there is a relative shortage of solid positions in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in both academia and industry. According to the Early and Mid-Career Researchers (EMCR) Forum Executives, a committee of the Australian Academy of Sciences, the country spends relatively little money on research and development compared to other countries. Australia has 1.8% of her per capita spending in 2019-20 compared to the global average of about 2.5%, according to the OECD report. Australian universities have been hit hard by the pandemic as they rely primarily on international student fees. The Australian University, the Commission for Promoting Higher Education, found that in 2020, the country’s 43 universities combined her 17,300 jobs and her A$1.8 billion (1.25 billion million USD) in lost revenue.

Low job security and high competition may contribute to the long working hours of early-career researchers (ECRs), a study found. About 61% of respondents in 2022 said they felt too much work, whereas in 2019 only 49% said so. If you don’t do that, you’re not a good researcher,” one participant wrote in the free-text section of the survey. I’ve seen the

Christian says these pressures, along with a strong desire to work as a scientist, may cause some researchers to endure unreasonable levels of abuse and unethical behavior. About half of respondents reported being bullied, but only 22% believed their agency would address complaints. In 2022, his 47% of respondents reported being affected by “questionable research practices,” most often with author names inappropriately included or omitted in papers. I’m here. This is up from her 38% in 2019. “People aren’t chasing the truth, they’re chasing something else, a publication or a job,” said the New University PhD biomedical engineer and co-author of the study. says Michael Doran of He moved to South Wales in 2006 and is currently on the board of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

room for improvement

The study authors made several recommendations to address these issues, including increasing the level of university support for ECR. This includes, for example, giving greater weight to mentorship obligations in ECR promotion decisions. The authors also call for an independent body to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct, as is the case in the US and UK. The Australian Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of making this happen.

Doran also proposes reducing the number of PhDs awarded in Australia. “There are too many PhD students for the number of jobs. He adds that fewer students may be encouraged to enroll in PhD programs in Australia if the country’s universities are forced to publish the career and salary results of their graduates. By increasing the length of time required to complete a degree from three to four or five years, he said, the number of PhD students could also be reduced and the level of training increased.

trend reversal

Australia will launch a 10-year program this year, linking 1,300 PhDs with industry partners and funding each candidate for up to four years. That’s a good thing, says Doran, but it’s not if you can generate 1,300 new PhDs and there aren’t enough jobs to match them.

Perhaps PhDs should be split into research-focused PhDs aimed at academic careers and practitioner PhDs aimed at industry, Vo said. Some argue that efforts to improve the career progression of young scientists should instead focus on workplace conditions and available jobs. “Instead of limiting PhD opportunities, it would be better to adapt the EMCR community to diversify the opportunities available during and after PhDs,” said the ECMR Forum executive. increase.

Christian argues that jobs are needed one way or the other to reverse the decline in job satisfaction, increased workload concerns, and rampant bullying that the survey reveals. “The job anxiety, stress, and misery that we have identified are totally unacceptable,” she says.



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