On the ladder

September 5, 1997

This academic life is fraught with difficulty - jobs are scarce, insecure and increasingly clogged up with teaching and administrative duties that prevent our brightest minds from pursuing their first love - research

Andy Foggo is a lecturer in the department of biological sciences at Plymouth University. Having graduated with a BA in zoology from Oxford University, Dr Foggo pursued a research career, based largely on short-term funding. He received his DPhil, also from Oxford, in 1992, and has held research fellowships at the University of Brussels and again at Oxford. He has also been closely involved in writing a number of well-received research proposals for the Leverhulme Trust, and a number of the research councils.

However, Dr Foggo feels strongly that there is no career structure for academic researchers, and that there is a crucial lack of career guidance for academics, both in relation to their continued careers within academia, and with respect to finding an alternative career.

"I was one of a cohort of several PhDs trying to find research posts, who were totally unaware of what options were available beyond waiting for the appropriate postdoc to be advertised," he says.

"There is a lack of guidance about how you would go about finding alternative careers. (This happens) only by word of mouth or by meeting someone purely by chance. Where do you go to find out?" According to Dr Foggo, the major problem is that as a postdoctoral researcher you get an intitial short-term contract. After that, you have a limited choice: you get another, similar post, starting at the bottom again, or else you secure a lectureship. The lectureship, however, can prove a very different beast.

"As we get more obsessed with teaching quality - perhaps justifiably so - the importance of teaching is increasing for most people in British universities," he says. "But you lose your focus on research. You can't sustain the same research in a new university."

He believes that under the present system, the UK effectively loses much of its research talent. He is also adamant that one of the main problems is the lack of careers advice early on.

"If you have to go into teaching, the wrong institution can be devastating (in terms of research)," he says. "The long-term consequences of choices you make fairly early on in your career are frightening. You need to be aware, early on, of the the repercussions."

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