Research career – A living dream?

The Eurodoc conference 2018, which was organized in collaboration with FUURT, took place in Tampere on 18 and 19 April 2018. The conference’s main topics were mental health, equality with focus on mobility, open access, and new criteria for measuring excellence. Amongst the highly qualified PhD speakers were also representatives from industry and European education institutions. The audience gave new insights and many opportunities to discuss these topics covered from different perspectives and led to promising approaches for innovative solutions. Opportunities for networking ensure ongoing discussion and activities related to the topics discussed. It also made Eurodoc, its National Associations and all their efforts more visible. actionuni was represented by Salome Adam and Mirco Grüter.

While most of the people involved in educational politics are well aware of the topics of open access and equality, the aspects and scope of mental health issues among young researchers were new to many. It was a real eye-opener when the study findings were presented, showing that 1/3 amongst PhD-Students at the University of Leiden are at risk of developing a mental disorder, such as depression. The causes cited for this are the highly competitive environment, the unstable financial situation, low wages in contrast to the heavy workload (most PhD-Students in Finland have at least one side-job), an uncertain future (mainly short-term contracts/funding) and unsatisfying supervision. Further studies and evaluations are most probably one of the short-term consequences as well as the professional development of preventive instruments. Since one of the main influences on mental health was the satisfaction of the PhD-student with his or her supervisor, Eurodoc addressed this element with its contribution to the doctoral training guidelines (“A handbook for supervisors of modern doctorale candidates“).

As for the topic of equality, a new aspect was raised with the focus on mobility. It was stated that female researchers are facing disadvantages if they are not using the opportunities of very early career-mobility, since it is even harder for them to be mobile later than it is for male researchers. It was therefore decided to introduce new and promote more efficient mobility opportunities specifically tailored for female young researchers.

Within the topic of measuring excellence in research, many concerns were raised about the current system. Mainly criticized was the narrow focus on impact factors and number of citations, which leads to suboptimal incentives and results, and therefore can result in a biased selection. It was also declared that highly competitive positions require more than just scientific excellence as measured by these criteria.

Finally, the increasing number of PhD-candidates was discussed together with the fact that public research funding has been constant over the years or even been decreasing. Therefore, a secure future within academia is even less probable than it was a few years ago. But at the same time, private and public sectors are still asking for more PhD holders, since highly educated workers are important resources to them. It therefore seems to be a sound economic choice to leave the academic career pathway and start working in the private sector. However, often this is still seen as a failure within some academic circles, a view that ought to change. On the other hand, the question was raised whether it is legitimate that society has to pay for the human resources development of private companies and whether this change of mantra could lead to a brain drain for universities and higher educational institutes.