The Career Tracking of Doctorate Holders report by the European Science Foundation (ESF) indicates the oversupply of post-doctorates and doctorate alumni is resulting in crushing levels of competition for very few posts. The classic mobility pattern of a PhD is no longer sustainable.

The report by the European Science Foundation comprised focus groups and a survey of doctoral holders from five European research organisations. The ESF analysis shows almost all respondents (n=880) are employed, with 90 percent in research posts. But only a third of these have tenured positions.

Too many PhD’s

The key reason for leaving research – given by those who are working in another field – is the difficulty of building a career in science.

In Career Tracking of Doctorate Holders it becomes clear the related issue of growing numbers of doctorate holders internationally and the preference of doctorate holders for a career in academia are resulting in bottlenecks and crushing levels of competition for very few posts.

It is a major concern to the ESF: ‘Addressing the reasons for low levels of transfer to other employment sectors… needs to be centre stage on European and national policy agendas.’

South-to-North mobility

The report notes that mobility patterns indicate doctorate holders are highly mobile (90% have worked/studied in another country for at least three months). Within Europe the geographic mobility tends to be intra-European: from Southern of peripheral countries into Northern European countries. The report raises concerns about this asymmetry.

Another result in the study is the fact researchers with tenure produce higher levels of outputs of societal relevance (patents, policy impacts and public engagement activity). They are also significantly more satisfied with important aspects of their work environment including scientific environment, organisational culture and support available for their career development.

Royal job training

To develop a greater awareness of, and knowledge about, finding a position in an overcrowded scientific arena Dr. David Thieltges of the Marine Ecology Department has been organizing a course for post-doctorates at the Royal NIOZ: Finding a PhD/Postdoc Position.

‘Internationally, permanent positions in academia decline while the precarious temporary workforce increases due to a channeling of research funding into short-term projects. With our course we like to add some realism. It will help young researchers to develop their own strategic career plan and at the same time make them aware of career opportunities outside academia (Plan B).’ 

(Source: European Science Foundation)