Institutions ‘failing to support careers’, say young scientists

Survey of Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting attendees shows even those tipped for glory feel insecure and underdeveloped

October 9, 2022
Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Source: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Some of the world’s most promising young researchers do not feel their institutions do enough to support their careers, with some complaining of “abusive” colleagues or feeling like “cheap labour”, according to a major survey.

More than half of respondents to Times Higher Education’s poll of 420 past participants in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings disagree with the statement “Universities and research institutes do everything they reasonably can to support academic careers”, with 12 per cent disagreeing strongly.

A majority of the group of elite researchers also disagree that all young people have a chance to build a successful research career, regardless of background, and that the teaching being delivered in their field is the best it could possibly be.

The annual Lindau meetings bring together dozens of Nobel laureates and hundreds of international researchers under the age of 35 for a few days of lectures, panels and meals on the shores of Lake Constance near the Austrian-German border.

Young scientists from academia and industry must be nominated and pass a competitive, multi-stage application process to attend, and ostensibly represent the next generation of leading scientists.

The THE-Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings Research Success Survey was carried out in June and July and found that many felt unsupported. Only 12 per cent of respondents agreed that their institution was doing everything it could.

A respondent working as a postdoc in Austria said institutions are “interested in cheap labour” and that individual careers “are more of a hindrance to them”, while another in Switzerland said universities “do not have enough feedback mechanisms in place to protect young researchers against abusive” heads of laboratories.

Even more, 63 per cent, agreed that they were concerned about their job security, with women and those based in Asia and Africa most likely to carry such anxieties.

“I love my job, but there’s just no reasonable way forward,” a Sweden-based postdoc told THE. “It just seems impossible to be a scientist with a house, family and some sort of predictable future these days,” they said, citing the slim chances of a permanent contact. Just 30 per cent of the mostly European respondents hold a permanent position, with 57 per cent on a fixed-term contract.

The vast majority, 82 per cent, agree that a culture of overwork in their field is hurting their work-life balance. One Denmark-based postdoc said their old boss in Germany saw vacations as “personal attacks” on him, with more than half of PhD students dropping out. “A friend was refused any vacation for 18 months, even for a funeral, until he quit,” the researcher added.


Print headline: Young scientists feel ‘lack of career support’

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