We are looking for two highly motivated postdoctoral researchers to join the laboratory of Daniel Fisher in Montpellier, France. What follows is the copy of the official call. See below for details. Continue reading
As scientific researchers, we are often surprised by some of the assumptions made about us by those outside our profession. So we put together a list of common myths we and our colleagues have heard anecdotally regarding scientific researchers.
A research-focused academic will be provided with excellent colleagues, space, core technical support and often some money for lab maintenance. But not always a salary. Tenure is rare and is more likely to occur in universities but usually with teaching commitments.
The requirement for most researchers is to attract their own salary and research funding from outside their institute. This is typically in the form of competitive government grants, philanthropy and/or industry collaborations.
Scientific researchers are finding it harder to fund themselves due to reduced competitive grant funding. Luckily, some research organisations have a “safety net”, offering subsidies for limited amounts of time to top-performing researchers who have not funded their own salaries.
Surprisingly, unlike contributors to off-the-shelf journals and magazines, researchers have to pay the journals to publish their papers after they have been accepted for publication.
This is because, unlike mainstream publications, scientific journals generally do not receive money from advertisers. Costs can range up to A$2,000 per article, and up to US$5,700 (A$7,359) for “open access” journals, which do not charge a subscription fee. With most researchers publishing between five and ten papers a year, this can quickly add up.
Scientific researchers are typically paid for between 37 and 39 hours per week.
However, due to a combination of healthy obsession, the increasing cost of experiments and the pressure to compete for an ever-shrinking pool of funds, many put in up to twice these hours, often working evenings and weekends.
In contrast to those in the legal and accounting professions, for example, no overtime is paid to scientific researchers.
In 1937, the success rate for medical research grants was 49%, with a total of 63 applications made.
Through to 2000, success rates hovered around 30%, meaning one in three grants were funded. This sustained research careers and allowed growth in the research workforce. Today, around 7,000 PhD students graduate each year, with more than half in science, technology, engineering and maths.
In 2014, however, the success rate for most Australian government funded research grants hit a 30-year low of 15%, with another drop predicted for 2015. With 4,800 grant applications every year, there is a lot of excellent research – and researchers – missing out.
This issue was highlighted recently by four Australian Nobel Laureates. Unfunded research is often terminated, leading to a loss of valuable resources, such as specialised disease models and highly skilled research staff.
Subscribing to leading journals is essential for staying up to date with discoveries in one’s research area research as soon as they are published. A typical subscription will be a few hundred dollars each year.
Although many journals are available free via university libraries, many make their articles available only to personal subscribers in the first year after they’re published.
It is also important that researchers keep in contact with colleagues via societies, and a researcher will often hold two to five different memberships. Generally, grant funding bodies do not allow budgets to include such items, and most research institutes will not provide funding either.
The best a typical researcher can do is to claim part of these expenses back as a tax deduction.
In general, there are no compulsory courses in science communication, grant writing or budget management. These are usually picked up from mentors and from trial and error.
Progressive research institutes and university departments may offer some training in these areas, but again, this is not systematic.
Gone are the days of “once a researcher, always a researcher”. This is partly due to the “casualisation” of Australia’s research workforce and higher education sector, but also the high turnover of research personnel.
Most researchers sign a 12 month contract – sometimes less. Senior investigators with Fellowships may receive a contract for the duration of their fellowship, but few, if any, are considered “permanent employees”.
This is not unique to scientific research, but this short-term, high-risk career path has serious consequences for all researchers, particularly women in science.
Scientists are passionate about their research and readily do overtime and work pro bono (minus the executive assistant and company car), all while seeking funds for their salary, and for those in their team.
This is after more than a decade of higher education enabling the researcher to become an international specialist in their field. A huge investment for the individual, the government and society. Few researchers complain though because of the joys of research, the thrill of discovery and the desire to help others.
We hope this has helped shed some light on the life of a scientific researcher, and dispelled a few myths that are floating around about how and why we do what we do.
Scientists want you to “get” what we do. After all, our science impacts you too, and much of it is funded through your tax dollars. Increased investment in Australian science, together with diversified training of the research workforce, will secure the future of Australian research and researchers – and every Australian.
Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense.
That’s Thomas Henry Huxley. I couldn’t agree more. But, well, who trains us scientists? Who teaches us to organize our common sense?
As a young researcher, you learn so much just by doing research in a stimulating environment. You learn by trial and error. You learn how to think by being among clever people. I have been lucky in that I have been among some super intelligent scientists; I admire the way they think and do science. Just by being around them really improved the way I think and see things over the years, some kind of osmosis I guess!
The earlier in your career you come in contact with such people, the more the chances you will remain in this competitive word. And for me, there is nothing more rewarding than giving opportunities to other younger scientists.
I am very excited that two greek interns have just entered our lab (Daniel Fisher lab) and they will work with me until the end of September. They are not the first students under my supervision as I have supervised several students in the past in the UK and France, but these two students are unique in that they come from my home country and they are here mainly due to my initiative to liaise the Institute of Molecular Genetics (IGMM) and the University of Montpellier 2 (UM2) with two Technological Educational Institutes (T.E.I.) from Greece.
Katerina Danezi and Leonidas Birintzis, both from T.E.I. of Thessaloniki, received an Erasmus fellowship and are now here to do science. Katerina, who in September will enter her 3rd year of studies, and Leonidas, who will graduate soon with a Biomedical Science (Medical laboratory technology) degree, have the lab skills, the motivation and the guts to learn how research is performed (I have no idea of their grades at school, I never cared because this is not what makes a good researcher). Thenia Savvidi, from T.E.I. of Athens, has already been here in Montpellier since March to study ascidians in the lab of Patrick Lemaire.
Katerina’s and Leo’s first lesson was simple to tell…
but requires practice to do it properly. The integrity of reporting.
Their second lesson was that you can combine serious work with fun… this lesson is even harder to master!
Hopefully, this internship, and a prospective publication, will help them launch a fruitful research career. It is in their hands to perform the experiments carefully and collect the data. From my part, I hope I will succeed in showing them how it is to be a scientist, to think creatively, to be at the frontiers of knowledge and most importantly to do it with integrity.
Enjoy the journey lads! Science is fun…among other things!
P.S. Except from my colleagues at the Fisher lab, the entire IGMM and the admin people, a shout out also to a group of individuals, mainly Biomedical scientists, who never stop looking for new challenges, they provide support to Biomed students and they are a source of inspiration to me.
Featured image source: Missouri Southern State University
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Are scientists any different from superheros? Do they have superpowers?
I found this a great way to introduce kids to science.
Hat tip: Myrto P. Zacharof
by Dr Andrew Burgess
Dr. Petsko recently chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that investigated the science and engineering postdoctoral experience in the United States. In this talk, he discusses some of his own findings from participating on this committee including the fact that a large majority of post docs do not continue with careers in academia and should be offered the chance to explore different career paths.
P.S. Even though I do not agree with the term Alternative Career (they are all Science careers), i had to use it for the title of this post…
This is a video everyone must watch!
Bruce Alberts tells the story of how scientists put the pieces together to uncover the process of DNA replication (the process during which our cells make an exact copy of their DNA). As we know it now of course.
Scientific findings from the 1950s in simple words. Dr. Alberts, who has written the bible of Cell Biology, offers some critical advice, too.
Get yourselves and your kids vaccinated. Look at the evidence from research studies and not what clowns tell you.
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