Program provides free access to research for postdocs between positions
In an uncertain job market, program aims to help researchers stay competitive between positions
By Inez van Korlaar and Linda Muskat Rim Posted on 12 November 2012
Update: The deadline for this program has passed. Read about who applied and what the organizers have learned from this pilot.
News about the global economic climate for science funding has not been encouraging for post-doctoral scholars looking for a research position.
As negotiations take place over the European Union budget, due to be resolved in 2013, Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) puts an estimated €80 billion ($102 billion or £63 billion) in research funding at stake.
Spain’s secretary of state for research development and innovation, Carmen Vela, revealed in the June issue of Nature.com that the grants and subsidies used for research have been reduced by 25 percent (€475 million, £380 million, or $591 million).
And in the US, the focus on the presidential election has left many unanswered questions about the future of funding.
But the economy isn't the only challenge early career researchers face. The temporary nature of research positions means that most postdocs are perpetually between jobs. To compound the difficulty: when projects end for any reason, usually so do the benefits that come with them — such as having access to published work. For post-doctoral researchers, this access can be a lifeline for staying competitive and connected to the research community.
In this year's Annual Postdoc Survey, current and former postdoc fellows from the US, Europe and Asia ranked "Advancement Opportunities/Career Options" as the number one indicator of success for them and "Networking" as number three, both up from previous years. Conducted by Science Careers, a resource of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the survey polled 3,280 respondents on their postdoctoral experience.
Tellingly, the number of former postdocs categorizing themselves as unemployed also increased — from 2 percent in 2010 to 10 percent in 2012.
As one researcher wrote on a survey by Innovation Explorers: “The research funding in the UK has been reduced considerably, and it has a direct impact on early career researchers. I personally find that the reduced funding has also created a stressful atmosphere.”
Free access to books and journals
This alarming trend is the driving force behind a new initiative by Elsevier: the Postdoc Free Access Passport. The program, which is open for applications until December 15, provides unlimited access to books and journals on ScienceDirect for up to six months to young scholars who do not have a research position.
The program's mission is to help postdocs stay abreast of new science and maintain their interest in advancing their field as the markets improve.
"This is a great opportunity for (postdocs) to keep in touch with the latest news in their field of interest and to identify the most active centers of research where they can apply for a position," said Dr. Lenka Stockova, a research assistant from the Czech Republic. According to Dr. Stockova, access to published research is "not only important, it is really necessary. Otherwise you cannot keep up with the latest research in your branch of study."
Diddel Francissen, Executive Publisher for the Tetrahedron chemistry journals, explains how the program was conceived: “We always discuss the position of and changes for postdocs in our publications at the Tetrahedron board meetings. We realized that with the current market developments, we should pay extra attention to how postdocs are being affected."
Editors and publishers at a recent meeting began to share stories about postdocs in countries where funding has been hit hardest, acknowledging that many emphasized the mounting pressure to stay competitive and publish, in many cases without the resources to do so.
"Postdocs face a challenging time as big pharma has closed down many operations in Europe and the US, university budgets are squeezed and research budgets are reduced,” said Dr. Stephen Neidle, Professor of Chemical Biology at University College London and Editor-in-Chief of Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry, who was part of the team that devised the initiative.
“Indeed, it will be important to keep the interest and commitment of the younger generation," said Dr. Herbert Waldmann, Professor of Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund, Germany and Editor-in-Chief of Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters. He explains that the predicament postdocs often find themselves in that only makes establishing a career more difficult: “Postdocs are often trapped. They already have very advanced scientific skills and often are the true drivers in scientific research programs, but have not yet gained independence. In addition, their work usually is credited to the senior researchers with whom they work, and recognition for them often is not fully given.”
Alicia Wise (@wisealic), Elsevier's Director of Universal Access, said the program provides an opportunity to invest in the future of science by keeping promising young scientists current who would otherwise be without access to content: "Postdocs today face a multitude of challenges, between an uncertain job market and the inherent temporary nature of research projects themselves. At Elsevier, we know that access to published research is vital for early-career researchers to stay connected, to stay competitive, and to get that next project or job.”
9 Archived Comments
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Pilot drew scholars from around the world, with most from Asia and Europe