Federation University Australia
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Challenges for ECRs in STEMM - data supporting eLife manuscript "A survey of early-career researchers in Australia"

Version 2 2021-03-10, 06:59
Version 1 2020-12-29, 19:49
posted on 2021-03-10, 06:59 authored by Katherine ChristianKatherine Christian, Jo-ann Larkins, Carolyn Johnstone, Wendy Wright, Michael R. Doran

Early-career researchers (ECRs) make up a large portion of the academic workforce and their experiences often reflect the wider culture of the research system. The responses highlight how job insecurity, workplace culture, mentorship and ‘questionable research practices’ are impacting the job satisfaction of ECRs and potentially compromising science in Australia. We also make recommendations for addressing some of these concerns.

In this study we sought to understand the workplace pressures of early career researchers (ECRs) working in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, & Medicine (STEMM) disciplines in Australian universities and independent research institutes to better understand the needs and challenges faced by this community. We collected data in an on-line survey from 658 ECRs from across Australia. Our respondents clearly showed they were in their positions because of their “love of science”, but most also indicated an intention to leave their jobs.

When asked what would be likely to be the main reason for a decision to leave research, the prime motivations were reported to be job insecurity followed by lack of funding and lack of independent positions though our data shows significant workplace challenges also contribute to these decisions. Our respondents reported they had been impacted by poor supervision, by bullying or harassment, by inequitable hiring practices and by poor support for people with family responsibilities.

Our respondents also reported a concerning rate of “questionable research practices within their institution and from outside their institution. These impacted more women than men.

Our study links to recent reports from Australia and overseas that characterise the poor health of the research industry, providing direct insight from Australian ECRs on their job insecurity, workplace culture challenges, and the logical consequent rise of questionable research practices.

Internationally, nationally and institutionally the research community needs to improve job security (care for our people) and the quality of research data (our product).