Concern about academic career spreads around the world

Publicação: 8 de December de 2020

It is not known how many of these researchers will end up leaving the academy – either by choice or by necessity – but observers are expecting a seismic readjustment in scientific careers

The pandemic is leading some early-stage researchers to rethink their hopes for a university position

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has now joined the list of major postdoctoral concerns, such as deadlines, credits, competitions, publications and research grants. A research published in the journal Nature reveals that eight out of ten postdoc researchers have had the ability to conduct experiments or collect data harmed by the pandemic. And yet, more than half are finding it more difficult to discuss their research ideas or share their work with the head of the lab or colleagues, and almost two-thirds believe the pandemic has adversely affected their career prospects.

Developed with 7,670 postdocs working at the academy between June and July, the survey, created in conjunction with Shift Learning, a London-based market research firm, included detailed questions about the impact of COVID-19 on the community global postdoctoral position. Check out the 2020 Nature Postdoc survey – COVID-19 insights

Post-doctoral lives now have more concerns than scientific achievements. According to the survey, concerns about the professional future are especially common in South America, where 70% of respondents say their careers have suffered since the beginning of the pandemic. Asked about the three main challenges for career advancement, 40% of respondents point to the economic impact of COVID-19, almost two thirds (64%) observe competition for funding and 45% point to the lack of jobs in their field . Thirteen percent of respondents said they had already lost a postdoctoral job or an offer due to the pandemic, and 21% suspected that the virus had eliminated a job, but they were not sure. More than a third of researchers in South America report losing their jobs, compared with 11% in Europe and 12% in North and Central America.

Sixty percent of respondents are currently working abroad, a circumstance that only amplifies the potential impact of the pandemic. In addition, many are concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their visas and their ability to stay in their new country. Eighty percent of respondents say the pandemic has impaired their ability to conduct experiments. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they had more trouble discussing ideas with their supervisor or colleagues, and 57% said the pandemic made it more difficult to share their research findings.

Feeling unsteady

The post-doctorate has established itself as a determining stage in the professional life of researchers who understand that the academic job market is very competitive. However, the survey found self-selected responses from more than 7,600 postdoctoral researchers from 93 countries points to disenchantment with professional life. The survey revealed widespread concerns about the present and the future. When asked whether the postdoctoral period met expectations, 32% of respondents said it was worse than they expected and only 12% said it was better. More than half, or 56%, have a negative view of their career prospects, and less than half would recommend a scientific career for young people.

The survey revealed widespread concerns about the present and the future: when asked if the postdoctoral period met expectations, 32% of respondents said it was worse than they expected and only 12% said it was better. More than half, or 56%, have a negative view of their career prospects, and less than half would recommend a scientific career for young people.

Half of the survey respondents reported that their job satisfaction has declined in the past 12 months, a period that saw the emergence and spread of COVID-19 worldwide (for research results on the comprehensive impacts of the pandemic on postdocs).

The survey results suggest that post-doctoral life satisfaction tends to decrease over time. Younger postdocs aged 26-30 had the highest satisfaction rate, 66%. Satisfaction was also relatively high (64%) for respondents who worked as a postdoc for less than two years, but decreased for those with more experience.

Restless and insecure, postdoctoral researchers around the world are experiencing great anguish around their career prospects, workload and workplace culture, among other issues. Learn more about the Nature Post-Doctoral Survey.

Major depression and anxiety in graduate school

In 2018, a survey, also published in the journal Nature, entitled Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education” warned of indices of depression and anxiety  higher in graduate students. According to research carried out with 2,279 graduate students from more than 26 countries, 39% and 41% of them had symptoms of depression and anxiety, respectively, while in the general population these rates were 6%.

The full impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientific careers may not be known for years, but the hiring freeze and other signs of turmoil at universities have already shaken faith in the academy as a career option. While universities are trying to adapt and survive in a pandemic world, an increasing number of doctoral students and other early-stage researchers are looking for careers in industry, government and other sectors. It is worth remembering that the main problems of the interviewees are not new: those who work in positions with little job security, low pay and an unclear path to a permanent position. Growing concern in graduate school and research data can help academia and policymakers to consider new strategies.

Master in Infectious and Parasitic Diseases and PhD in Tropical Medicine, Professor Dr. Carlos Graeff-Teixeira recalls another article with a similar theme published in the journal Nature that had the title “What are we doing with our doctoral students? “Now another very relevant topic comes back to the debate: “how are our post-doctoral students doing?”. For the professor, these are themes that are totally interconnected with each other and with the general theme: “what we have been doing with our education since childhood”.

But by focusing on doctoral and postdoctoral students, Dr. Graeff-Teixeira highlights, in the first place, the mistake of considering “Post-Doctorate” as “title”, in a community very dominated by numbers and hierarchies of power. Second, the abuse of using scholarship holders, from scientific initiation to postdoctoral fellowship, as cheap labor, with miniscule dedication of advisors for growth and the good training of those being advised. Third, the immense failure of scientists to communicate better with society and to act politically, which, for him, is one of the main origins of the neglect of science as a whole, in addition, of course, to the lack of resources. for research and hiring young people.

“Even more serious, this flaw in the attitude and actions of the guiding scientists, which young people end up reproducing from the example, which creates the void that favors the birth of absurd conspiracy theories, anti-science and anti-vaccine movements. But crises are of great use: the opportunity for reflection and change”, concludes Professor Graeff-Teixeira.