sarahkeenihan

Posts Tagged ‘career’

Time to shake things up

In September 2016 on September 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm

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Sarah: In April this year I wrote an off-the-cuff post about career pathways and dreams for my future.

Little did I know what was around the corner! I’m delighted to report that this month I will start a new role as Adelaide Life Sciences Editor with The Conversation Australia.

So what’s The Conversation? Taken from their website:

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

Our team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

My job will be to work with researchers to help them craft well-written, accessible and news-worthy articles that anyone can read for free.

It will be a busy, exciting and quite demanding role, so please bear with me as I settle in and work out my new modus operandi for blogging and social media.

Vive le changement!

Happy 4th bloggy birthday

In September 2016 on September 2, 2016 at 12:11 pm

birthday cake

Sarah: ScienceforLife.365 is through its toddler years and heading towards early childhood education!

With National Science Week 2016 in its final throes, I realised my blog was now 4 years old.

Born in National Science Week 2012, I blogged every day for a year, and celebrated by hosting a National Science Week 2013 Brain Break morning tea.

Since then, posts have appeared around once a week, mostly written be me but with fantastic guest contributions from Kirsti Abbott, Mia Cobb, Cameron Webb, Heather Bray, Tiki Swain, Geoff HudsonMatthew Bowie and several others.

In total, 508 items have been published, and the blog has accumulated more than 37,000 views and over 20,000 visitors. Thanks guys!

If you’re a new reader, welcome to ScienceforLife.365. You can use the search function to browse through posts on all sorts of daily issues, including:

…and so much more.

Now excuse me, I must go and eat cake.

 

One in four is not OK (#1in4)

In April 2016 on April 29, 2016 at 3:14 pm
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Original plate (1836) of a Western Ground Parrot spotted by Bowie in London this week. This bird is now critically endangered, with only 140 individuals left. 

*Bowie: I was riding a bicycle through the hail and rain of cold Cardiff when I heard the news – budget cuts at CSIRO mean one in four jobs specialising in biodiversity conservation research will be axed.

Yes, one in four jobs (#1in4).

Now, I should confess at this point a vested interest: I am Australian and jobless, with my degree majoring in environmental science (botany and ecology), and my Honours essentially focused on…yep you guessed it…biodiversity conservation research. Be that as it may, learning about these changes to CSIRO forced me to pull over, find shelter at a Cardiff Bay servo and write a rant on Facebook. What follows is a refined version of that rant one day on.


How can Australia – the land of plenty – be letting something like this happen? When travelling as an Aussie the first things people say is ‘oooh kangaroooos and koalaaaaas’, ‘beautiful beaches’, ‘I love the Great Barrier Reef!’ We are home to some of the world’s most loved, unique, and sadly most threatened creatures and landscapes.

Now, about those cuts: here’s a brief summary of how the current situation evolved. The CSIRO – Australia’s leading science agency and headed by Larry Marshall – announced plans to slash around 350 jobs in an email to staff back in February. This included 110 climate research positions, and approximately 100 from the agency’s Land and Water division. In their submission to a Senate inquiry hearing on the impacts of these cuts, The Royal Zoological Society of NSW calculated this to equate to approximately a quarter of ecologists within the division. At a time when the world is experiencing a mass coral bleaching event (in which only 7% the Great Barrier Reef is reported to have escaped unscathed) these job cuts will hurt Australia’s unique and threatened ecosystems for much longer than the short-term funding cycle they were based on. The environmental juggernaut Sir David Attenborough himself essentially criticised the Australian Government for not doing enough, leaving us a laughing stock on international stages.

At this point you might be expecting a plea to save jobs for those poor old ecologists who just want to help the planet. Well, as heart-shattering as this news would’ve been for the individuals and families affected (or fledgling biologists trying to get their foot in the door), there are many more opportunities overseas. I recently visited an old mate who’s moved to Oxford University for this exact reason. We were discussing how Australia’s politics on science have become laughable within the international community, despite a strong reputation among the world’s oldest and top universities that the research going on in Australia is still top notch. It should come as no surprise then that Australian ecologists are world leaders (to use the words of our politicians) and being headhunted by overseas and international organisations like Panthera. So no, I wouldn’t feel too bad for those who can’t find a job in Australia – did someone say London calling?

Even if job prospects rebound in the next three-five years, the knowledge and people lost will be felt for much, much, much longer.

I am proud to be a part of the community focused on our environment, and not just from a scientific perspective (because it’s not about that). I studied environmental science at university because I love the great outdoors, despite being told I’d be better off in one of the ‘harder sciences’ like physics or chemistry, or even engineering. Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s all fascinating and necessary stuff, as we require the fundamental understanding gained from those more traditional sciences to develop cures to new diseases or new sources of energy, and inevitably help the environment we live in.

With the federal government’s own State of the Environment Report (2011) highlighting a decline and ongoing loss of biodiversity, why are biodiversity staff within the CSIRO seemingly suffering targeted cuts within the broader staff/budget cuts? Compound this with similar bare-bones operations of most state agencies, independent organisations, and even NGO’s and you realise how big a hit Australia’s environmental sector is copping.

My honours research focused on managing biodiversity conservation within Arid Recovery Reserve. This reserve is world renowned for its successful activities in reintroducing critically endangered and locally extinct species, such as the burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur) and greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis). This could not have been achieved without support from many sectors, but especially funding from what was then Western Mining Corporation’s Olympic Dam. Since then, money has become tighter with new owners BHP Billiton. Even mining is suffering – due to reduced demand for coal and ores – which can actually have negative environmental impacts, with companies cutting support for environmental projects like Arid Recovery. As funds dry up, this once-great feral-free reserve is suffering intrusions from rascally-rabbits because of the simple fact that fences can no longer be maintained.

I fear for the Australia we are leaving behind. I do not wish to be a part of the movement currently swirling out of Australia to a land not down under, but up in the air and over to Europe, Asia, or the Americas. I do not wish to be a part of this brain-drain – even if it is better for my career. I would love it if Australian science had half the public support seen in countries like Denmark. I say public support because the time when policy listened to reason has passed, but the popularity contest means we as a public can steer Australia into a smarter future. With another election looming, leaders will be looking to sweeten their parties’ pie with deals like the new submarine deal.

ritchie copy 2

Source: Twitter @EuanRitchie1 New subs = $AU50 billion,
initiate Gonski reform = $AU6.5 billion, entire ARC budget 2015-16 = $AU0.83 billion. 

So I’ll leave you with this point: it’s not the jobs losses you should cry out about, nor the fantastic (and often fanatic) people who once loved those jobs. What you should tell your friends is that Australians don’t seem care for what is quintessentially Australia. It is no longer ‘what kind of world do you want to leave for your grandchildren?’ but ‘what kind of world do you want to live in?’

Because this is happening now and each of us can make that decision. #1in4 is not ok – so please spread the word and keep this in mind when you vote in Australia’s Federal election in July.

*Guest post from ecologist and science communicator Matthew Bowie. Learn a bit more about Bowie in his first Science for Life.365 blog post 

I went for a walk and thought about stuff

In April 2016 on April 13, 2016 at 4:03 pm

walking

Sarah: Today I went for a walk and thought about stuff*.

The stuff kinda went a bit like this:

Now I’m 43 years old, and have three kids aged 12, 11 and 6. I’ve been married for nearly 18 years. I have a house and a garden and a dog. I do exercise and I eat well.

I’m a grown-up. Really, yes, now I am a grown up.

I’m working as a science writer, which gives me great freedom and flexibility and allows me to earn money, to continue learning about really cool science and to hone my writing skills on an ongoing basis. This is great. I am very lucky.

But I’m really not anywhere near set in my career. I will not be freelance writing forever. I have plans. I have really big plans.

The fact that my big plans are not at all clear at the moment does not stop me. All I know is that all this thinking and writing and learning about audience and thinking and writing some more is giving me skills that have value.

Will I come up with a kick-arse idea and become an entrepeneur? Will I work for a huge scientific or medical institution? Will I write a book? Will I start teaching? Will I go back to research? Will I study medicine?

I don’t know. And that’s ok. For now.

*title and theme inspired by this post by veggiemama , which I heard about through this Australian Writers’ Centre podcast 

Where could science take you?

In March 2016 on March 30, 2016 at 9:11 pm

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Sarah: Research science can be the perfect platform from which to launch a new career. Perhaps you’re interested in marketing, intellectual property, teaching, business management or pharmaceutical sales? After graduating with a biomedical PhD in 2000, now I am a freelance science writer.

Here are my top 6 tips for transitioning from research into another career:

  1. Know yourself. Keep your options broad. Be open to change.
  2. Before you make a move, get extra training if possible.
  3. Offer yourself up for volunteer roles – you’ll learn new skills you didn’t know you didn’t have. And you might love them.
  4. Don’t expect a new career to take off overnight. Aim for a slow transition.
  5. Find great mentors, and work collaboratively and humbly with them.
  6. Be bold enough to design and transition to a career that fits with other responsibilities and loves – whether these are family, an existing job, or a passion such as marathon running or speaking French.

It’s hard to see how each of these points is relevant without a case study. So here’s little more detail of my career history:

I was always the kind of person who was interested in lots of…well…stuff. As a kid and teenager, I read many kinds of books. I played lots of sport. I listened to the radio and loved documentaries. After school finished, I signed up to study Medicine.

But it didn’t work out. Fundamentally, I was unhappy (looking back, I think it was lack of emotional maturity). After switching to a Bachelor of Medical Science, I was lucky enough to conduct an Honours year and subsequently my PhD under the supervision of Sarah Robertson (now Director at the Robinson Research Institute). Sarah R was – and still is – an adept communicator, both in the written and oral forms. She taught me that to cut it as a researcher in reproductive immunology I needed to be able to explain reproduction to immunologists, and conversely to share immunology with reproductive scientists and obstetricians/gynaecologists. This awareness of audience needs was an excellent start to a career in science communication.

Sarah also advised me to join the ASMR, and I subsequently became active with the South Australian branch – including as media officer, my first foray into the world of press releases, briefs and talking to journalists. It was a pleasure working with ASMR stalwarts Moira Clay and Peter O’Loughlin during the mid-late 1990s. And Cath West was a great support from head office.

I became so interested in talking about science to a general audience, that I signed up to study a Graduate Diploma in Sciences Communication (Central Queensland University). Of course this was a crazy move, given that I was mid-PhD. But once started, it was easy to defer it many times and I finally completed the diploma over 10 years later. This gave me an important theoretical foundation in media and communications. And it showed people that mattered I was investing in my communications career – this fact alone was enough for a well-known media identity (Keith Conlon) to give me a brief spot on his local TV show.

Post PhD, I stuck with research for about 4 more years, working in Australia and Indonesia. A post-doc with American military scientists in Jakarta was an eye-opener to say the least. Here, I developed better skills fending for myself, and was fortunate to work with a fantastic epidemiologist in Dr Kevin Baird.

But that communication bug kept biting, and so I left the academic sector and started working for an Adelaide science and futures consultancy Bridge8. In this company, business owner Kristin Alford focused on digital and novel strategies to tackle big problems related to science and technology. She encouraged me to take up social media and to embrace new challenges I never would have dared confront previously. With my two and then three young children to work around, she was also highly supportive of my need to work odd hours and from home on many occasions. If you provide new parents with flexibility and options, it’s my experience that they will work hard for you.

It became clear that the thing that made me happiest was writing. So I used a blogging project (ScienceforLife365) to announce to the world that I was a freelance science writer. This blog (now in its 5th year) was crucial in refining my writing skills, reaching new audiences, understanding social media better, and formed a great marketing tool as well. I undertook further training in writing, marketing and social media through SA Writers Centre, the Walkley Foundation and Australian Science Communicators. Now I work with a range of clients in academia, publishing, government, social media and digital news services. Many find me through word of mouth; others I meet through networking and introductions from existing clients.

And the crazy thing is, I’m actually a little bit tempted to look into Medicine again. I guess I just like to keep things fresh.

Have you worked out what stuff keeps you motivated? It just might lead you to a new career.

This post was first published in the March 2016 newsletter of the Australian Society for Medical Research

[Image thanks to Chase Elliot Clark, Creative Commons license]

 

Science writing: what, how, why, when and huh?

In February 2016 on February 22, 2016 at 11:17 am

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Sarah: What does a science writer even do? It’s a question I am regularly asked as I meet new people day-to-day. Some scientists are also intrigued about my work, and interested to know how I made the switch from a research career into a communications role.

Recently I was interviewed by Adrian Carter, Deputy Chair at the Early-Mid Career Researcher Forum at the Australian Academy of Science, as a way to provide careers information to members. Originally published here, I’ve reproduced it below in case you too are interested.

What is your current occupation or position?
I’m a freelance science writer, and live in Adelaide, South Australia. I have an office in my home, and travel to meet with clients as required. Occasionally I work in-house with a client if that suits their needs. My work typically includes a mix of: writing news and feature articles for online and printed publications, putting together or editing grants and prize applications for scientists, copywriting and crafting content and case studies for client websites and documents, writing blog posts and other social media outputs, conducting workshops for scientists looking to improve their writing skills, and more. Previously I worked in immunology research in Australia and Indonesia, and in a number of writing and communication type roles.

How did you get into science writing?
It was a field I had been interested in for a long time, although it wasn’t until 2012 that I finally made the decision to become a dedicated freelance writer. At the time, I was employed by Dr Kristin Alford at futures consultancy Bridge8 Pty Ltd (http://bridge8.wordpress.com/). We worked on a range of different science, technology and futures projects, and it became clear to me that it was always the writing work that I loved the most amongst the mix of skills I was applying. I’d been cultivating my science writing capability for many years prior to that, having started a Graduate Diploma in Sciences Communication during my PhD in the late 1990s (I finally completed it over 10 years later!). I did a reasonable amount of volunteer writing work for associations and publications over the years as well, and started a daily blogging project (https://scienceforlife365.wordpress.com/) to improve my writing volume and speed.

What do you enjoy most about working in science writing?
I love that I’m working at the cutting edge of science, across many different specialty fields and that every week is different. Obviously I’m not doing laboratory research anymore (and I do miss it a little), but I have the opportunity to chat with some fantastic people and hear about what they’re doing and what they hope the impact of their research will be. As well as being thrilled by the science, I have a real love of language. I find it very satisfying to craft words, sentences, paragraphs and indeed whole pages that are enjoyable and easy to read, but still accurate. I love the stories of science, and helping new audiences to come into contact with complex subject matter that they may not have encountered before.

What are the most challenging aspects about being a science writer?
Although working alone is a good fit with my slightly introverted personality, at times it can be quite isolating. To counter that, I make sure I mix up my time: I schedule a combination of flat-out writing binges interwoven with in-person and phone interviews, coffee dates with pals and colleagues, and chats about life and work matters with friends and colleagues via Twitter and Facebook. I attend professional events in Adelaide—I’m a member of the Australia Science Communicators and the SA Writers Centre—and travel to conferences or training once or twice a year.

It can also be quite challenging to keep the right balance of jobs on the go. Sometimes offers of work come all at once, and it’s important I make sure I don’t over-commit myself when that happens. However it’s incredibly hard to say ‘no’ to fantastic opportunities, especially when a new client comes knocking. Other periods are quieter, which is useful for administration tasks. Working at home, I do need to make sure I don’t procrastinate in the form of household distractions.

Describe a typical day in your job?
I am an early riser, often before 6am. Some mornings I exercise, others I sit straight down at the computer and get an hour of writing done straight up. From 7am-8am it’s bedlam! My husband and I grapple with breakfast, lunches, uniforms and miscellaneous emotional turmoil for three kids aged 6-12. Once that mob is packed off out the door, I have the house to myself and start on more work. I write best in the mornings, so make sure I use that time wisely to crank out serious words. I aim to schedule phone calls and meetings in the early afternoon when my brain has come off the boil a little. If I have a full day at home, I break it up with exercise (running or swimming) and physical chores around the house. Working from an in-house office is a great way to keep a household ticking over. I recommend it to any working parent. But again, look out for the procrasti-cleaning/cooking/washing!

Between 3.30 and 6pm is taken up with the kids’ after-school activities, although I do pull in help to cover this during busy times when I need to squeeze more hours from each day. If I’m in a particularly crazy patch, I work evenings as well.

Any advice for early-mid career researchers wishing to pursue a career in science writing?
Science writing is not for everyone, and is not necessarily a natural jump from a career in research. The best approach is to take a long run-up and make a slow transition. You’ve really got to know yourself: work out what you’re good at, what conditions you like to work under. You need to be familiar with what makes writing work for different platforms: news, social media, long-form, grants, prizes, website copy and more. You must be able to work fast and to tight deadlines at times. You need great networks in science and media circles, which can be built up over time in other employment and through real life and social media interactions. You should take the opportunity to get extra training if possible, such as through writing courses, science outreach training or media internships. You can also take on volunteer roles to learn new skills: for example, do media or outreach for a science association. Whilst doing that, try and hook up with a mentor or two in the field you’re interested in. Even if you just meet for coffee, it’s valuable. If you have the chance and a bit of spare time, work collaboratively and humbly with them (yes, this usually means not paid!) – it will be worthwhile, as you’ll learn new skills and define your strengths and weaknesses outside of the research environment.

What’s exciting you about science writing?
It’s so exciting living at the intersection of two fascinating disciplines: science and media. Science is so interesting, so diverse and of course incredibly valuable to our society. Through writing, I love feeling that I can help change peoples’ minds about the importance and relevance of science, for example guiding readers to feel less intimidated by climate change, or helping them understand how cancer treatment works. I also feel very lucky to apply my science knowledge at the cutting edge of digital news and communications—the way information is presented and consumed is so fascinating, and changing constantly. Late in 2015 I attended the Storyology conference, hosted by The Walkley Foundation. It was absolutely wonderful to hear from some of the world’s leading media experts, and to be part of such a dynamic field.

How did your PhD or postdoctoral research assist you with a career in science writing?
My PhD training was a fantastic launch pad for a career in science writing. Through many years working with Sarah Robertson—herself a fantastic communicator—and other colleagues, I learnt how to write specifically and concisely, how to organise information, how to tell a story through verbal and written communication, how to reach long-term goals through creating reasonable short-term deadlines, how to manage my time effectively, how to never give up, how to walk into a conference and chat with people I’d never met before…the list goes on! All these skills are so valuable and transferable to many careers outside of research science.

[image thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/donnieray/]

Best job advice: think about the people

In February 2016 on February 15, 2016 at 2:32 pm

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Sarah: The other day I think I heard the best ever piece of advice for students trying to work out what their future careers might be.

It was delivered in the context of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), but could apply equally to any field:

“Think about the types of people who will be in the industry you’re be aiming to be in, and shape your decisions according to that.”

Brilliant. Brilliant!

So, for example: If you love rocks and Earth history then you could consider studying geology. However it’s the decision you make next which will be the big one. If you want to work with miners and engineers and business heads looking to make money from the resources sector, you could think about being a minerals exploration expert. If instead you’d rather work with people at museums and University academics learning about the history of Earth and outdoor adventurers, then you could aim towards a research career with lots of field trips. Same educational background, completely different people to hang out with.

In my case, I loved biology and the scientific method, and did well enough at school to get into medicine. But then 3 years later I worked out I actually didn’t enjoy being in the hospital environment — lots of sick people, a hierarchical system of doctors, and not much time to sit down and think through problems. So I switched over to biomedical research, and was much happier.

What kinds of people do you like? What are the characteristics and value sets of friends who make you feel happy and comfortable? What’s your best operating environment?

Head for that, and you’ll be right. Mate.

[image thanks to Jirka Matousek]

 

My top 5 comms tips for scientists

In April 2015 on April 24, 2015 at 2:18 pm

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Sarah: Today I was delighted to be on a science journalism panel at a forum hosted by the Australian Academy of Science: Pathways 2015 – Effective Science Communication for EMCRs (#SciPath15). In the esteemed company of Niall Byrne, Reema Rattan, Nicky Phillips and Cassandra McIver, these are the 5 main points I tried to convey:

  1. Although you may not realise it, you have already learnt a whole lot of comms skills as a scientist. Be confident! And practise, practise, practise.
  2. Being ‘known’ in the broader population as someone with good comms skills can pay off for your science career – both in terms of being a better communicator, but also in terms of being a recognised expert, and someone who ‘gets’ the importance of talking outside of their niche field.
  3. The more you write, the better a writer you will be. Yes, publications and grant applications are top of the rung of course. But other writing will help you sort through what really matters in your research, and how to best explain it to different audiences in different styles. Writing articles for The Conversation, blogging, Facebook, twitter….all help you distill the essence of what it is that you do.
  4. Developing your capacity to talk outside of your field may help you find alternative careers in the future. Even within research.
  5. The world of research is changing, and will continue to do so. The way research is funded may be fundamentally different in 5, 10, 20 years. Imagine a world where most research is funded by private enterprise…are you going to be able to talk to those industry groups? investing in your science communication skills now will set you apart from others who only know how to talk to researchers.

The day unpaid writing and networking happily collided

In March 2015 on March 31, 2015 at 1:47 pm

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Sarah: Should I write for free? It’s one of the toughest questions faced by writers and other content creators. Yes, you want to see your name in a byline. Yes, you need more experience to add to your portfolio. Yes, you want to show a business that you’d like to build a relationship with it.

But when should you say ‘sure thing!’ versus ‘thanks, but no’ to unpaid writing opportunities? I’ve heard many authors comment on the pros and cons of producing content for free. As I’ve written previously, Adelaide-based author Patrick Allington said,

“If you’re considering taking on unpaid work, you need to work out whether and how you’re going to make it work for you.”

On her website, freelance writer Allison Tait said,

“There are many people who will tell you that you should never write for free. There are others who will tell you that it is essential that you write for free to build a portfolio. I say… maybe. I say put a value on your words and decide where you think you will get a return on your investment. I say think about how you will transition from writing for free (should you decide to do this) to getting paid for your writing. I say choose very, very wisely where you put your words.”

Many scientists undertake communication activities for free, driven by passion and a desire to spread the word about how wonderful and diverse and useful science can be.

When I was a brand new freelance writer, I did some unpaid writing – mostly on this blog. In fact, having a daily commitment to write was one of the reasons for starting the project. Now I’m happy to report that the majority of my writing does provide an income.

However I still do write some words for free. Included amongst these are book reviews and interviews for the website Science Book a Day. An initiative of George Aranda, I support it because I believe it’s a great and unique idea and I enjoy reading books with a critical eye – hopefully it will improve my writing as well.

Recently I experienced another benefit of this commitment. Drinking champagne at the inaugural Women in Media event in Adelaide, I was introduced to a senior writer and books editor at The Advertiser (South Australia’s primary printed newspaper). I told her of a wonderful science/history book I had just reviewed for Science Book a Day – Severed: A history of heads lost and found. She said it sounded wonderful. She said would I like to submit a shorter review of the same book for The Advertiser? She said she would pay me.

It’s a positive outcome that arose from a happy collision between networking and an unpaid writing gig that I did for love.

Etching out a track in science

In October 2014 on October 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm

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Kirsti: Last week Radio National’s Life Matters show featured a segment on early career researchers. Natasha Mitchell posed the question,

“Are we at risk of losing a generation of young scientists?”

I say yes, we are.

If you are under the age of 60 and in science, I’d suggest you listen to the podcast of that show. It chews the fat on some very important issues for science in Australia, for individuals in an already volatile labour market but also those trying to understand our planet, our place in it, and our potential to shape it.

Insecure short term contracts, tightening of funding for science, and lack of generational change in research teams were the main topics that were tackled on the show. There was also resounding consensus by the interviewees that etching a career in research in Australia at this time is hard.

Casualisation of the academic work force is happening all over Australia. I know, as I am directly impacted — partly by choice, partly not. I believe the shift to casual employment undermines the skills and value of workers, and provides no means of progressing upward. Furthermore, there is little to no opportunity to build a cohesive academic culture with casuals. Typically they don’t feel motivated to become a ‘real’ part of an institution that doesn’t want them ‘officially’, but is willing to exploit their talents for a teaching semester (or 12) or a special project. Needless to say, this is extremely damaging to scientists and – going beyond remuneration – it helps to maintain what Doug Hilton from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne calls ‘perpetual scientific adolescence’, or the ‘career neverland’.

Lack of generational change in research teams is a relatively recent phenomenon. Little turnover in the workforce since the 1970’s meant that older researchers were retained and those coming out of postdocs never really got the same chance to become independent. Consequently, researchers that spend a decade or more refining their skills aren’t faced with job ads and gaps to fill. Instead, they are continually more reliant on senior researchers for funding and positions within research teams. They never really get a chance to flourish, to be innovative lead researchers in their own right.

The treadmill starts there – with few to no grants to their name they’re less competitive, and being less competitive won’t land you a permanent job. Round we go.

The lack of funding for science compounds this problem, as the competition for money favours track record and productivity, not potential. So early and mid-career researchers are once again reliant on permanent, senior academics to be primary investigators on grants. The names on applications are the established scientists’; the brilliant ideas come from the younger scientists who are in the prime of their innovative and focussed careers. Round we go again.

Recently I’ve been thinking that staying in science and research without a permanent job is sort of like owning your own small business. Lots fail. Not the majority, but lots. You have to find your own salary every year. You are constantly chasing contacts, leads and potential for the next project or funding round. As a casual, you are doing this with no holiday pay, super or other benefits, and many do it while parenting on an almost full time basis. Lastly, it’s not looking like anything is going to change anytime soon.

I must admit, I am super happy with my decisions around my career trajectory. I am making conscious non-traditional stories around how to blend research with education, communication and understanding of nature (both engendering and sustaining a connection with it). It’s hard in many respects, but I like a challenge. Part time everything seems to be the answer for me.

But I really feel for those brilliant young things who have never, or who will never get a chance to discover their potential as a lead researcher.

Australia is far worse off for it.

[image thanks to wiredforlego on flickr]