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Willetts and Nurse will discuss science careers today. Funding too?

October 26, 2011

Buried in a Times Higher Education Supplement report of David Willetts’ recent speech at the London Science Festival is this interesting tidbit:

“Mr Willetts announced that he would be co-hosting a meeting with Royal Society president Sir Paul Nurse to discuss the research career structure.”

PST understands that this meeting will be going ahead today, although the Royal Society has not confirmed this.

The career structure for scientists in the UK–and elsewhere–is certainly problematic. Unlike many sectors, it is not a hierarchical pyramid. It is a flat plain populated with herds of researchers and one single tower, which accommodates a lab head. This situation is a great disincentive to the many excellent researchers who are often blocked from climbing up their career ladders on merit, simply because there’s no room for them.

But isn’t there a funding issue here too? One way to keep costs down in a lab is presumably to retain the plain-and-tower structure. Postdocs on short-term contracts are cheaper than lab-leading professors for sure. The government may have ring-fenced science spending (a cut in real terms, of course), but one would hope that it acknowledges the impact of this on careers. The two are brother and sister, so hopefully there won’t be a family spat at the Royal Society today.

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