Within the academic system, the “Lost Generation” refers to the growing cohort of senior post-docs and other scientists who, after accumulating short-term contracts and temporary positions, find themselves excluded from the research system due to the lack of opportunities for permanent positions.
In a new, overcrowded and over-competitive system, this cohort is expected to abide by the old rules. Often, they face a vacuum exacerbated by geographical, social and familial constraints, a lack of skills necessary for a career switch, and the absence of real opportunities related to their age, as well as the fact that long stretches spent in the academic system are often disregarded by many employers. Their career instability, as well as the loss of such highly trained individuals, create instability in the academic system itself, leading to loss of vertical knowledge exchange and an inefficient use of human and financial resources.
These scientists are part of a widespread, rarely addressed problem in academia. Although there are differences across European Countries, there is a general trend that is not country or region specific. We believe it is more fruitful to focus on a broader perspective of the actors that contribute to this trend, and potential solutions for this cohort.
The problems facing the ‘Lost Generation’ are not new, and have been debated for many years now. Some clear recommendations have been proposed. but little has been done to address their needs in Europe and internationally. The problem is also become more urgent over time, as competition increases, and the concept of the ‘disposable scientist’ becomes the norm. The current academic system is creating, in many instances, what resembles a programmed obsolescence of an academic ‘Precariat’.
There is also something that we do not always acknowledge, which is that we all have some responsibility in this. Small changes in the system, for the better, are possible but it is naïve to imagine that it will be possible to return to an age of widespread permanent employment within research organisations. We should all take responsibility to help make this crowded and highly competitive academic system fairer, more transparent and to increase awareness of the challenges facing researchers.
We are especially interested in opening a discussion on the following issues that involve all relevant stakeholders – from the researchers to the principal investigators, research institutions, National Funding Agencies and the European Commission.
1) How can the system evolve to increase awareness regarding long-term academic opportunities (or the lack thereof) in order to make young scientists more responsible for their own fate (an important element here being that shifts are more difficult at a later stage)?
2) How can young scientists be better trained and prepared for career shifts? What would be the implications of the “training” activities on the system as a whole (from scientific output to evaluations)? What are the costs and organisational implications?
3) Should the system be made more responsible, e.g. by reducing opportunities of short-term employments (including post-docs and other, more senior forms of temporary contracts) eventually leading to a dead-end? What are the respective responsibilities of the various stakeholders, from policy makers to funding bodies and host institutions?
4) Should the structure be reshaped to distinguish between permanent senior scientist positions and from PIs or professorships that are are offered in institutions?
5) If Research & Innovation – and therefore the scientists – are so important for the future of Europe, why is the system so demanding and, at times, unfair (salaries, mobility requirement with consequences on pension and social benefits, family life and perspectives, etc.)?
This ESOF session is organised by Sara Ricardo, a Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) Board Member and a career-track fellow at Instituto de Biologia Molecular de Barcelona (IBMB), in partnership with Gilles Mirambeau, co-founder of the Spanish AEAC, EuroScience member and molecular biologist at Sorbonne Université and Luc van Dyck, consultant on European affairs.
In this session we will have the opportunity to directly discuss these points with an expert panel of relevant stakeholders: Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the European Research Council (ERC), Rolf Tarrach, president of the European Universities Association (EUA), Renée Schroeder, professor at University of Vienna and Varvara Trachana, professor at University of Thessaly.
With this workshop we aim to bring clear actionable ideas to the table that can be implemented.
Sara Ricardo, Gilles Mirambeau and Luc Van Dyck
Featured image credit: ©️ Laurent Condominas
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