October 5, 2009

Lack of Logical Career Paths...and PostDocs

Sciblogs was launched last Wednesday by the NZ Science Media Centre. It's the largest science blog network in NZ and puts in one place all NZ’s science blogs. The Scientist NZ is honoured to be a part of it. It’s a fantastic effort, and hopefully will go a long way to encouraging discussion about science in NZ.

Through Sciblogs I was made aware of this post and this article in the ODT about Otago University future-proofing itself against an increasing shortage of academic staff.

In my opinion, what could be part of the blame is the lack of a logical career progression in NZ science once you have finished your PhD. This has been written about before by the Gen Y Scientist here, but in light of this article and comments from the Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman about the lack of career paths in NZ science, I think it should be mentioned again.

It would be impossible to get a job as an academic as soon as you finish your PhD (unless you were Einstein), so when one finishes a PhD and wants to become an academic they usually take up a postdoc position in a research lab in order to gain further experience in academia. After this they look to make the transition to lecturer.

The problem in NZ is that postdocs are not funded by the university system (like PhD students), and as a result overheads must be paid to their host university from the grant they are working on. As they are more qualified they demand a higher salary, and so combined with overheads, a postdoc will cost $150,000 per year, while a PhD student will cost $30,000 - you can get 5 PhD students for every 1 postdoc! This means that the number of postdocs that get written into grant applications is incredibly low compared to PhD students, and so many recent PhD graduates looking for a career in academia go overseas.

Once overseas, where they are exposed to better funding regimes, higher salaries and a lifestyle that isn’t actually that bad (in some ways I agree with Dr. Andrew Wilson in the 'Big Science' article), why would they come back?

Perhaps one solution is that the NZ government could in some way subsidise more postdoc positions so that they can conduct post-PhD research in NZ. That way they can gain valuable experience and perhaps go some way to filling the supposed shortage of academic staff.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron you mentioned in your earlier postings when you first started writing that many PhD students are increasingly keen to stick around and contribute to their knowledge to the 'science scene' in NZ. Perhaps further to your idea above, scholarships or internships of some sort at that level overseas (with the understanding that what PhD students learn during their tenure travelling/being younger/observing international 'scenes') could be offered, thus enticing post-PhD work to be done upon return? Not sure, it may not be feasible enough short term for the long term benefits (or indeed if post-PhD folk were willing to sign up)



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