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Science Careers Blog

Academic Careers: September 2011

As highlighted by our sister site Science Insider, the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc) today released a report outlining the working conditions of doctoral researchers in 12 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden).

Among the most striking findings is the discrepancy in funding available to Ph.D. candidates across the various countries. Science Insider writes: 

In the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries, 90% or more of doctoral students receive some form of scholarship or salary for their work. But in several other countries, 20% to 30% don't receive anything, and in Austria that percentage can rise to 46%. "We did not expect the lack of funding to be so extensive," says Karoline Holländer, a former president of Eurodoc and a co-author of the report. "Many doctoral candidates have to find other sources of income to live on."

Another surprising finding concerned doctoral candidates' perceptions of gender bias in academia. According to Science Insider:

Surprisingly, more men than women said they were at a disadvantage in academia because of their gender. In Finland, for instance, 78% of men felt that their sex was "very much" a disadvantage, whereas only 37% of women did. "We have no explanation for this," says Holländer, who adds that the next round of the survey, to be conducted in 3 to 5 years, may ask further questions on the topic.

You can read the whole Science Insider article here.

Some of the report's other interesting findings include:

  • Most early-career researchers in Norway (91%), Croatia and the Netherlands (89%), Sweden (76%), and Slovenia (73%) are given a short-term employment contract while they work toward their Ph.D.s. Other countries had relatively high percentages of doctoral researchers with no employment contracts of any kind: Austria (25%), Spain (24%), Portugal (18.5%), Finland and Germany (17%), and France and Slovenia (12%).
  • Fewer than one in 10 Ph.D. candidates were aware of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers, which outlines the roles, responsibilities, and rights of researchers and their employers. The exceptions are Spain (23% knew of them), France (14%) and Portugal (12%). 
  • Most respondents in all the countries surveyed reported having access to training courses during their doctorate programs, but a significant proportion of respondents in Portugal (38%), Germany (37%), Slovenia (32%), Croatia (23%), and Austria (21%) reported not receiving any kind of formal training.
  • In all of the countries surveyed, the majority of doctoral researchers found their supervisor supportive or very supportive. 
  • Whether doctoral candidates can put a contract on hold and get paid while on paternity/maternity leave differs widely across countries.
  • Nonetheless, many doctoral researchers feel pressured to postpone taking parental leave; Spain (18.3%), Germany (30%), and France (34.2%) showed the fewest respondents who felt such pressure.
Eurodoc presented the report at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France this afternoon. You can read the full report on the Eurodoc Web site. You can also catch up on the event on Twitter @Eurodoc: #strasbourg11.

September 13, 2011

New ERC Starting Grants Awarded

On Friday, the European Research Council (ERC) announced the winners of its Starting Grants, which offer early-career investigators up to 2 million euros over 5 years to help them establish or build up their research groups at European institutions.

Now in its fourth year, the program awarded more than 670 million euros to 480 early-career researchers. This year's competition was considerably more competitive than last year's; the ERC received 42% more applications than last year (from 2873 to 4080), but funding was up just 15% -- a nice rise, but insufficient to keep up with the increase in the number of applications. The result: a 12% success rate.

It can be hard for researchers in the economic and social sciences and humanities to know what funding opportunities are available for them within the 7th European Research Framework Programme (FP7), especially beyond the Theme 8, "Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities." The netT4society project (funded by the EU) has just released a report listing current calls in other research areas that are relevant to the socio-economic sciences and humanities; examples include health, nanosciences, and environment. The report, entitled "Opportunities for Researchers in the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities," can be found on the net4society Web site. The report will be updated each year as new funding opportunities arise in FP7 and other European Research Area initiatives.

Vitae, a U.K. organization promoting the personal and professional development of researchers, has released a podcast with highlights from the first day of the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2011 currently unfolding in Manchester. The event gathers research organizations, funding bodies, career development staff, and researchers to discuss policy and practice in researcher development.  

Among the news highlighted in the podcast: the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) which Vitae developed in the U.K. to help individual researchers and research institutions with their professional development is now undergoing trials across Europe as part of a project funded by the European Science Foundation. (See our previous blog entry for some quick background on the RDF).   

The President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness announced yesterday at a panel discussion in Portland, Oregon, that it had secured a commitment from 45 companies to double the number of engineering internship opportunities they offer by 2012. The move is part of the council's effort to train and graduate an additional 10,000 engineers from U.S. colleges and universities every year. Yesterday's announced commitments will add close to 6,300 new internships.

Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel and a member of the council, said that there simply aren't enough qualified engineers in the American workforce to meet the needs of the market. One reason so many companies are looking to relocate their R&D departments to China or India is that those nations are graduating about 10 times more engineers, making it all the more important that the United States bolster its own engineer-training programs, he said.