Post-docs need impartial career support

14 April 2011

The most detailed snapshot yet of the 3,000 or so postdoctoral researchers in physics and chemistry university departments across the UK has been caught by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in a new report.

Mapping the Future

Post-doctoral researchers (PDRs) in physics and chemistry – scientists who have completed a PhD and work in research teams to further deepen understanding of specific research areas – make up one of the most fluid areas of academic employment.

Jennifer Dyer, the IOP’s Diversity Programme Leader, said, “Many PDRs have to hop around different departments on short term contracts.  We initiated this project to ensure these highly valuable individuals are being supported appropriately by societies like IOP and their host institutions at this crucial time in their career.”

The new report, Mapping the Future: Physics and Chemistry Postdoctoral Researchers’ Experiences and Career Intentions, is based on a detailed survey of PDRs in departments across all of the UK’s chemistry and physics departments.

A key finding in the report is how few PDRs seem aware of the wide range of career opportunities open to them beyond academia.  More than half (54%) of respondents rated their awareness of career options within academia as good or very good, but only 23% gave a similar rating for career opportunities outside academia.

The results show that almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) plan to be academics on a permanent contract in 6-10 years’ time.

The report recommends making impartial careers advice available for all PDRs to ensure that individuals have a realistic view of their likelihood of gaining a permanent academic position.

In response to other findings, including only 40% reporting that they feel well-respected in their department, the report also recommends implementing mechanisms to allow PDRs to be consulted on departmental issues, as well as introducing processes to ensure successful inductions into new roles, routine job appraisals, and establishing mentoring schemes.

Gemma Wood, RSC Manager Networks, said, “This cohort of a few thousand PDRs represents some of the brightest minds in UK science.  Departments need to nurture their potential and ensure they are aware of the wide range of opportunities open to them.”