Research career a minority sport

November 28, 1997

The majority of contract researchers want to continue in academic research, but their ambitions are likely to be frustrated by the lack of available posts, a pioneering survey has found.

Little is known about contract researchers' careers, and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council funded a short pilot study on the destinations of 114 staff whose contracts ended between March and May. This will now be followed by a three-year survey, the first comprehensive report on contract research staff statistics to be produced in the United Kingdom.

Kenneth Mackenzie of the Scottish Graduate Careers Partnership found that almost 80 per cent of the researchers wanted to continue doing research. But only 70 per cent won another research post and 80 per cent of these were extensions of previous contracts, the majority for less than a year.

More than per cent of researchers were initially unemployed, although this fell to less than 17 per cent within two months. But the report points out that this is very high compared with a recent survey of graduates, which found an unemployment rate of less than 8 per cent.

The report concludes that the short-term extensions seem to confirm the view of the national concordat on contract research staff management, that "an established career in academia or, exclusively, academic research, is realistic for only a minority".

The concordat emphasises the importance of career guidance for contract researchers. The report says contract researchers see careers services as the best source, but warns that this means more resources because careers units are funded as a student support service. Mr Mackenzie found that researchers may also turn to supervisors and personnel officers for help, and says the careers service should be involved in training other staff for this to be effective.

Informed guidance depends on better information on where researchers end up after completing their contracts, says Mr Mackenzie. Further long-term studies and improved data collection should be priorities for the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

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