Many of you have probably heard about the Science Careers campaign that we at Science Is Vital are currently running – which is also the reason I have not blogged for a few weeks. I’m a little in shock right now because I appear to have just obtained a full eight hours of sleep: I’d forgotten how that feels. (Since I’d also like to refresh my memory about the concept of a sit-down breakfast, I’ll just give you the brief highlights now.)
Suited and booted outside BIS (photo: S. Curry)
Phase I began back in May with a public discussion at the Royal Institution with a panel including the Science Minister, David Willetts. There, we talked about all the ways that the science career structure might be damaging UK science – and the lives of UK scientists. Mr Willetts asked us to put together a summary. So Phase II – a call for evidence and broader consultation – took place in the month of September. We (and a number of kind volunteers) analyzed the data as quickly as we could, and produced yesterday’s report: Careering Out of Control: A Crisis in the UK Science Profession? I’ve written up an account for the Guardian; there’s some nice coverage in the Times Higher as well; Nature is running something next week, OT’s own Stephen Curry will have a blog in the Times, and Lewis Dartnell is penning something for The New Scientist, so keep an eye out.
Yesterday afternoon, Mr Willetts and his team met with us for thirty minutes to discuss the report, in what was a very productive meeting. As a result, I was invited to meet him again in a roundtable discussion convened by Paul Nurse at the Royal Society on this very issue at the end of the month. We are very pleased with this outcome, because one of our recommendations was that younger scientists, and the voices of researchers with more diverse, and perhaps not as successful, experiences be included in any discussions on career structure. I will do my best to help represent and transmit the ideas, experiences and emotions of the 700+ scientists who passionately spoke out in our various consultations over the past half year.
Yes, it’s an oil tanker, and one running at a decent clip. The way scientific careers are discharged has solidified over many years of custom and practice. The money for science is frozen for the foreseeable future, which means that any changes would require reallocation of current funds. Also, the problem has been going on for some time, and many of these ideas have been discussed before to little apparent effect. Nevertheless, I think it’s never too late to try to change something that seems wrong. Working together, and assuming that change is possible, we may be able to improve the lot of working scientists in the UK – and help protect the underpinnings of our world-class research base. And as Stephen pointed out on Twitter, perhaps an improved model here could inspire other countries to take a harder look at their own situations.