Brain drain of UK biochemists is slowing, finds survey

February 24, 2005

Brussels, 23 Feb 2005

The number of UK biochemistry PhD graduates that choose to work abroad or leave science altogether fell sharply in 2003, according to the latest edition of the UK Biochemical Society's graduate employment survey.

In what the Biochemical Society describes as a sign that the brain drain is slowing, the survey reveals that the proportion of PhDs choosing to work abroad fell from 9.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent in 2003, while the share that decided not to pursue scientific careers shrunk from 6.5 per cent to 1.8 per cent.

As for those students that go on to take research posts at UK institutions, the survey notes: 'The proportion of PhD graduates continuing academic research has characteristically been in the range 41 - 45 per cent over the years, so a figure of 50.7 per cent [for 2003] is unusually high.'

Part of the reason for this sharp rise may be down to students being put off applying for postdocs in the US because of visa restrictions introduced following the terrorist attacks of 2001, suggests the survey. However, the Biochemical Society's policy manager Mike Withnall adds: 'There is increased government funding and the concordat to promote careers for young scientists using, for instance, the Roberts Fellowships.'

In recent years, the graduate employment survey has drawn attention to the fact that good graduates appeared to be shunning research careers, but the 2003 results offer the hope that the situation may be stabilising.

The results 'suggest that careers in academic or industrial research are still seen as favourable options,' argues the survey. 'This despite the widespread concern within the science community over non-competitive salaries and uncertain career structure in academic science.'

Before getting too carried away with the results, however, the Biochemical Society cautioned that the sample size was small and that the results may not be echoed in other branches of science.

For further information, please consult the following web address:
http:///www.biochemist.org/bio/001/0047 /0010047.pdf

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