Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Researchers Frustrated by Career Prospects

By Ian Lowe

A new survey finds that researchers like their work but are frustrated by limited career paths.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A new survey has found widespread discontent in the Australian research community. In a report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies, experienced analysts Jenni Metcalfe and Toss Gascoigne have documented “bitterness, anger and frustration”, especially among junior researchers struggling to establish their careers. They live with the uncertainty of short-term contracts and poor prospects of grant support. Many also feel they receive inadequate mentoring.

Part of the problem is inadequate funding, leading to unproductive use of time and creative energy. When nearly 2200 apply for support and fewer than 300 succeed, the wasted time and effort is enormous. It is impossible to justify a system that fails about 85% of the most qualified people in the country.

About 1200 researchers responded to the survey. Interestingly, about 80% still said they found a research career attractive.

While some positive features of the Australian research environment were identified, such as the financial support for PhD students, there were many criticisms. The reliance on short-term contracts and the resulting insecurity for young researchers was the problem most heavily attacked, with about 80% of respondents mentioning this as an issue.

While the most obvious solution would be to fund research more appropriately, respondents also suggested changes that...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.