Removing some uncertainty from the career equation

Not having a defined career structure, is for many scientists in Europe today, a frustrating reality.

One might argue that quantum physicists might tolerate this level of uncertainty better than others. Yet, this trend seems to be here to stay.

In this special issue of EuroScientist, we explore the shift in the working culture of our society affecting scientists. This results in changes imposed by both the global economic context and the evolution of technology. Thus, scientists’ career paths increasingly look like a collection of collaborations with one-off research projects with a set duration.

However, this fate is not exclusively affecting scientists. It merely reflects a mutation of the work environment. Now, ‘who you know’ may have a more overarching influence than ‘what you know.’ With all the consequences this new world order may engender.

It appears that many of the needs of scientists have not been fully addressed. One of the key questions remains whether the current infrastructure in Europe is adequate to support scientists’ careers. The original ERA vision was to allow scientists to work seamlessly across Europe in the course of their working life. In reality, many issues remain unresolved. Among others, administrative conditions—for example, social security and pensions—have yet to be further harmonised.

In this new context, expectations regarding work conditions are evolving too. While some countries are culturally mature enough to allow a balance between work and family commitment to become a reality, it is not widespread practice in Europe. A lot remains to be done to improve the work-life balance of scientists. Let alone, to redress the gender imbalance in scientific careers.

Finally, some might argue that too many PhD students are currently being trained for too few opportunities. This is compounded by the lack of well-defined career structure in academia and the limited number of available tenure positions. As a result, PhD graduates would inevitably have to learn to demonstrate how their analytical skills and expertise are a suitable match for non-academic positions where their profile could be valued—be it in industry, as entrepreneur or consultant, in government, NGOs or education.

The perspectives gathered in this special issue will, hopefully, provide food for thought to help you, our readers, revisit your career strategy.

And we would love you to share your views with the EuroScientist. Feel free to send your reactions and comments to editor@euroscientist.com and to contribute to this debate.

Policy makers need to hear from you what could make the prospect of a science career in Europe a more attractive option.

Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Michael Scott

Go back to the Special Issue: Science Career

Sabine Louët

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