Postdocs are the 'lost tribes of the science world'

January 13, 2006

Postdoctoral researchers have become the "lost tribes of the scientific world", who are used, abused and finally lost by universities, MPs heard this week.

During a heated Westminster Hall discussion on Tuesday, Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, slammed the science community for wasting the talents of many of its brightest people.

Pointing out that more than half of postdoctoral researchers in the UK were funded through short-term contracts, Dr Harris warned that lack of job security, low salaries, and an insufficient career structure were responsible for driving talented young people out of science.

He said: "When people ask them (postdocs) whether they would encourage others to go into their career, they often reply, 'What career?' There is no career - there is a job, there is a pretty poor salary. It has been improved recently, and there are some career development opportunities. There may be sources of more advice, but fundamentally things have not changed."

Dr Harris told The Times Higher after the debate: "Postdocs are the lost tribes of the scientific world. Despite improvements to their pay and conditions, British science is still tending to use, abuse and lose them."

But Barry Gardiner, Under-secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said: "The Government, through the research councils, has introduced a series of measures designed to encourage employers to improve the attractiveness of research careers and to support the training and development offered by universities and research organisations.

"The Government has provided £185 million of new money up until 2007-08," he said.


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