Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Scientists Love Work but Fear Cuts

By Stephen Luntz

A survey by Nature has found that scientists are satisfied with their work but are disturbed by the way the global financial crisis (GFC) has affected research budgets.

The survey includes responses from 11,500 scientists in more than 100 countries. Two-thirds expressed satisfaction with their jobs, with this being as high as 86% in Switzerland. Australian scientists were marginally above the global average.

But salaries were viewed much less favourably, with just 36% of participants describing themselves as very or somewhat satisfied. Here again Switzerland appears to be the place to be, with 78% expressing satisfaction. Average Swiss salaries of participants were $104,000 per year, which was well above other European countries, let alone worldwide.

Australian scientists were among a small group of countries where only a little over 20% of scientists reported that the GFC affected their enjoyment of work. Spain and Portugal were at the opposite extreme, while the figure was close to 50% in the US and Japan. Women are less happy with their jobs than men, but the gap is small compared with the difference in salaries.

Science may be expanding rapidly in China and India, but satisfaction levels there were below the global average. Asian scientists were particularly likely to express frustration with the independence available to them to pursue their own research. Nevertheless, most Chinese and Indian scientists said that their job was improving.

According to one scientist quoted by Nature: “My job satisfaction is based on my intellectual freedom. There is no connection between the markets and the pursuit of my scientific interests.”

Full professors are happier with their jobs than more junior scientists, but there was little difference between postdocs and associate professors. Senior scientists were more likely to report negative effects on their work from the GFC.