THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

November 29, 2012

"I would like to invite you to attend a meeting on Friday 30th November at 15:00 to discuss the proposed termination of your contract," reads the management missive that has dropped into the in-box of Jennifer Rohn, cell biologist at University College London.

In her Mind the Gap blog, Dr Rohn describes the thoughts that went through her mind when she received the news that her time at the London institution might be coming to an end.

Although she is on a rolling three-month contract, she had not received that kind of notice in writing since starting at UCL nearly 10 months ago, she writes.

"Each time, they've found spare salary behind the sofa cushions at the final hour...The unit here very much wants to keep me, but despite the fact that I'm [research excellence framework]-returnable, overseeing the production of exciting and clinically relevant data and have already managed to bring in external funding, the receipt of a formal letter makes me wonder if the game is finally up."

Her thoughts inevitably turn to whether now is the time to quit research completely.

"Do I want to find an academic situation, or would I rather leave its uncertainties and instabilities behind me for good?" Dr Rohn asks. "I've been here before, of course. After another redundancy in a small, low country [the Netherlands] that now seems a world away, I recall writing in my leather notebook all the pros and cons of academic research, industrial research and non-science jobs such as publishing, staring at them for hours as I agonized over what to do. In the end, with the economy in poor shape at that time, the decision to leave research was made for me."

However, being away from the lab left Dr Rohn feeling "fundamentally unhappy", she recalls. "I have been particularly content in this lab, feeling for the first time as if my talents and experiences are being used to their full potential," she writes.

"Previously, my passion for the vocation had been lost in the details, and rediscovering it once again has been a daily source of intense satisfaction. It would be a personal tragedy if I had to leave it all behind."

There are basic necessities to consider, too.

"I have mortgage payments to keep up and food to put on the table; redundancy pay (less than a month's salary) would not get me far. I believe myself to be eminently employable in a wide variety of roles, but it can take time to find a decent job. So it seems like the right thing to do is to roll up my sleeves and make a start."

She asks: will leaving research, if it comes to that, become "a life's regret"?

"I'm not so sure...Tomorrow, I turn 45. Battling to stay constantly afloat seems increasingly unappealing. Meanwhile, the past few years of my expanded activities in writing, communicating, punditry and policy have revealed interesting career prospects that weren't even possible for me the last time I was laid off. It seems likely that my love of research could face some stiff competition if I found the right role outside of it."

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