Are decisions about careers in science becoming more like the arts or sport?

4th February 2015

I recall listening to stories and recordings of my father performing on stage in Victoria.  His career dreams revolved around musicals, yet he was a mechanic.  His family persuaded him that career opportunities did not exist and that he should get a ‘real’ job.  He gave up his passion for security.

Is a career in science heading down this pathway, is it already there?

Whilst Australian academic researchers are globally recognised amongst their peers and our biotechnology companies rank highly on international reviews, the future for a career in science and research is less clear.

The ABC News today reports on Dr Danielle Edwards who has turned down returning to Australia and a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) stating that “the prospect of getting a more permanent position outside the three-year fellowship didn’t look good”.

At home, where science runs deep and our children are enthusiastic; we are encouraging them to consider medicine, veterinary science or pharmacy.  Here they may be able to pursue a research career, if desired, but have a fall back position.  The alternatives may be a career outside of science, but science is where their passion currently lies.

When talking to our children we ask ourselves, “how attractive and stable is a career where you need to reapply for your own job (funded by grants) every few years and there is a 14% success rate (declining) from the NHMRC”?  What does this mean for their future families?

We look at the policy positions, funding cuts and disconnect between academic science and industry.  Australia performs well at both ends, but less so in the middle (see previous post).  Without this connection, relevance wains, community benefits are diminished and the future of Australian science looks less bright.

Major economic powers see the value in innovation and increase their support for research and its surrounding ecosysytems.  We need to increase our support, get the balance right around what and how we fund innovation and we must not forget the the need to support enablers of collaboration that will deliver the benefits of good science.

We should also consider how our science education gets our students industry ready.  Industry placements and gap years are far more the norm internationally and opportunities for both academia and industry to benefit from the relationships formed exist.

If we don’t do this quickly, and careers in science become unattractive, where will Australia be tomorrow and what options will our children have?

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3 Responses to “Are decisions about careers in science becoming more like the arts or sport?”

  1. Nancy Piche says:

    Another article outlining the difficulties and challenges of a research career (and in particular for those transitioning from early to mid career):