I have spent the last couple of days attending “Science Pathways: Getting science on the national agenda”, which was the “inaugural meeting of the Early-Mid Career Researcher Forum”. That’s a bit of a mouthful really, so what does it mean?
“Early-Mid Career Researchers” (EMCRs) are individuals who are within about 15 years of finishing their PhDs or other higher degrees. The Australian Academy of Science, which is made up of ~450 of Australia’s most esteemed scientists, thought it was time to cast their eye to this next generation who will take their place once they retire (and in academia, this translates to “when they die”) to see how they were feeling about their careers in research. The aim was to address two key questions: what are the key issues facing young scientists today, and how can we make their voices heard by the policy makers that fund their future?
Along with the 140-odd young scientists that attended from a wide range of research institutions across the country, there were also some heavyweights present to share their experiences and thoughts. Chief Scientist Ian Chubb. Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt. Former CEO of the ARC, Margaret Sheil. CEO of the CRCs Association, Tony Peacock, and CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Anna-Maria Arrabia, just to name a few.
Now, I’ll start by saying that I was feeling quite good about life as a young researcher before heading up to the Shine Dome in Canberra. I have recently started a position at the University of Melbourne, where l get paid to do what I love and work with intelligent, friendly, and interested people. I optimistically (or naively) had the perception that if you work really hard, tick all of the boxes of what’s expected of you, you can continue to do research. Nuh-uh. One of the most telling pieces of advice I heard from a senior researcher (over drinks) went like this: “If you’re the second-best paediatrician in Australia you’re doing really well. If you’re the second best teacher, that’s great. If you’re the second-best researcher in your field: you’re f****d”
Why? Read on.