A new network at University College London hopes to lobby the government to raise awareness of the struggles of “well-educated, broke” early career researchers.
The group of junior academics, working in UCL’s Populations and Lifelong Health Domain, want to highlight the issues faced by researchers on fixed-term contracts and give those early in their careers a voice within university management.
They argue that PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and research associates are an “absolutely essential part of science” but are one of the most “vulnerable groups” in terms of job security.
Data presented at the first meeting of the group suggested that one institute in the domain had 124 non-clinical postdoctoral researchers, but just 13 lecturing positions that they could progress to, reflecting the competition that junior researchers face.
Ed Fottrell, chair of the network’s committee and a lecturer at the UCL Institute for Global Health, said that these statistics, from UCL’s Institute of Child Health, were “depressing”.
Dr Fottrell said it was important that early career researchers confronted the problems brought about by fixed-term contracts, lack of support and career expectations. He said that almost all early career researchers dwell on the things that they need to do to climb the “steep stairs of success”.
He added that junior research staff face difficulties because they “are well educated, broke, because they spent all their money being educated [and] doing science at an age when they are trying to start families and buy houses”.
Dr Fottrell continued: “The network is going to tackle these ideas collectively rather than each of us lying awake at night individually…We want to be realistic and see all the problems but we want to sprinkle some optimism and support.”
He added that many of these problems are not due to university policies and that the network had “ambitious” aims to raise awareness of them with government.
The network, which was launched on 3 September, hopes to inspire and support people. With a small amount of funding from UCL it will run events and provide advice, mentoring and networking opportunities, as well as offering insight about careers outside of academia.