I’m not the only one living in this situation, right? The setting is simple: you have invested three to five years to get your bachelor degree. Then you became part of a select group who went on to study for a masters degree: another one or two years of your life. The next logical step if you’re still interested in research, is the doctorate. Approximately four years later, you defend your thesis and finally become a doctor.
You are a young doctor and the world seems to have endless possibilities: industry, academia, research. You worked so hard, you learned so much, and you feel ready for new discoveries and new challenges in your career. It is a career that, despite more than ten years of dedication, is just at the beginning. You are full of energy and want to put this energy into action. New paths, new people, ground-breaking scientific discoveries. Right? Right. You only have one small problem: How to achieve this wonderful “first” job.
First steps explored
After many attempts, and after many CVs refused and mostly ignored, you realise that the academic world is a very closed one, much more than you ever thought. The obstacles to join a university as a teacher are many, starting with the limited number of open positions. We hear a lot in the press about how universities overburden their staff, and do not invest in new professors. In Brazil, small and medium universities even avoid hiring professionals that have a PhD, based on the costs of such a qualified professional.
So you decide to go for a post-doctoral fellowship. But what does this mean? Insert a young researcher into the scientific world so they can start their independent research until they finally find a permanent position? Theoretically, yes, this is the case. But the practice is so different. You realise you need to chase funding for your research to happen. And you discover that these funds are increasingly scarce. Jobs are increasingly competitive and you, the early career researcher , are starting to feel increasingly isolated.
Some qualifications, such as my PhD in biochemistry, offer employment opportunities outside the academic world. Industries seem to want someone just like you, but with much more experience than you. Ah! Experience. This simple word carries so much weight and makes your head hurt. After all, you’ve spent the last 12 years of your life in a closed room, wearing lab coats, holding pipettes, thinking of chemical formulas or theories of famous scientists. It seems that this was not and is not enough. Another problem, unfortunately common in Brazil, is, that if you have a PhD, industries analyse your profile as an academic profile and then you are no longer a candidate for this position.
Everything leads us to this point: you have this great PhD but what now? How to be seen and get your qualification and experience recognised?
Connections are essential. More and more, social networking has connected people who share thoughts and the same ideals. Experienced researchers, scientists, young researchers can be found online discussing topics and discovering a new way of doing science, a new way of collaborating. Therefore, networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn are growing in value.
Not only do you have to have a great resume, extensive experience and be a lovely person, you also have to be seen. Networking sites can break the first barrier: they allow a young researcher to be seen by companies and experienced researchers who need our knowledge and our energy.
The academic world needs to open up, to facilitate the access of early career researchers to research laboratories, to postdoctoral positions, to industries. In Brazil, we need more positions in medium and small universities for newly qualified scholars, so they can enter academia. Industry and universities need to have a discussion about how they can work together to improve funding to research and make the most of the highly qualified (and differently experienced!) researchers making their way out of the academic world. Researchers need to help themselves by seeking to demystify the academic world. Such discussion would be the first step to making science not only a job, but a really impactful way of working for the benefit of our industry, our society and beyond.
Images from our correspondent’s own collection. Find Luana on Instagram.