Report calls for extra support for early careers chemists

Researchers face a number of challenges. Zoe Corbyn reports

June 17, 2009

Early career chemistry researchers need greater support and more needs to be done to enable academics in the field to pursue “adventurous” research, an independent review has found.

The international study, which was presented to researchers last week, says that UK chemistry research is world-class in several areas but also identifies room for improvement.

It is critical of the “lack of diversity” in the academic community and the lack of an overarching plan for the subject’s infrastructure needs, warning that this could hamper the future of chemistry research in the UK.

It also identifies communication problems between academics and funders.

“Communication between research councils and stakeholders is affecting UK chemistry,” it says, recommending that funders and the research community “review the balance of funding allocated to responsive mode versus programme grants and mechanisms for sustaining high-risk research”.

Chemistry researchers recently clashed with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council over its decision to bar researchers who had made a number of unsuccessful bids for funding from applying for further grants.

Chemists said they would be affected worst by the rules, claiming that such a policy could result in “almost all” of them being blacklisted.

The proposals were subsequently watered down in response to their concerns.

The latest review is part of a series organised by the research council to provide an independent assessment of the quality and impact of areas of its portfolio.

A team of 18 academics and experts from industry from outside the UK visited research groups, concluding that the UK is “world-class and sometimes world-leading” in a number of areas including chemical biology and materials.

The review also says that multidisciplinary research efforts have expanded since the last analysis in 2002, that PhD programmes are on track and that there are good examples of business interaction.

Academic collaboration with industry is a “positive and distinguishing feature of UK chemistry” with vigorous and successful spin-outs across all disciplines, it notes.

The findings of the report, Chemistry for the Next Decade and Beyond: International Perceptions of the UK Chemistry Research Base, were welcomed by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Dave Garner, society president, said: “Where there is praise this will be celebrated. Where there are challenges we will make every effort to ensure that these are addressed.”

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