Researcher careers and mobility

Researcher careers and mobilityI was at a conference in Dublin last month on ‘Researcher Careers and Mobility‘.  It was organised by the Irish Presidency of the European Commission and there were participants – researchers, policy makers, senior academics, industry representatives –  from across Europe.  There were a few interesting views and comments that I picked up at the conference that I thought I’d share with you.

Apparently Europe will have a need for 1 million more researchers over the next few years – to enter all sectors of employment.  This seemed surprising to me when I work with researchers worried about finding their next job opportunity but as the member states of the EU increase their contribution to the research budget apparently it is so!  Many of you will know that the European Research Council is one of the few funders actually increasing their budget recently so maybe this is an area to consider for the future (ie. look at developing European networks and collaborations with a long-term view to accessing European funding).

Many industry employers are worried about how they attract and keep researchers in their company.  We often think of it the other way round – how do you make yourself as a researcher attractive to companies?  But as more companies want to attract research talent the employers are thinking about what they can do to keep talent, e.g. allow them to publish, go to conferences, and so on.  To be fair a lot of the speakers were from technology companies (Intel was particularly keen on researchers) so this is probably not true across the board but it’s good to remember that researcher skills can be highly valued outside the academic environment by the right employer.

I was reminded of EURAXESS, a Europe-wide organisation which helps researchers find jobs and settle in countries across Europe.  Definitely worth a look if you want to work outside your home country and want support with practical things such as accommodation, understanding health and education systems, as well as finding work.

There was a big debate about moving around between different research groups nationally and internationally as a good way of progressing your research career.  Some researchers were concerned that if they were unable to do this, possibly due to family or health considerations, or if they simply didn’t want to, that it may impact on their career progression.  Reasons for mobility were to show you could be independent of your group or principal investigator.  Suggestions included spending just a short period with another group (months rather than years), actively networking with visiting researchers in your group with the aim of establishing future collaborations, or trying to develop lines of research independent from your supervisor.  This is probably something more for the long-term but worth considering now.

I was struck by how diverse the research environment can be in different countries.  Some researchers in Southern European countries were severely limited in their ability to travel to conferences (due to budget constraints as a result of the current economic conditions in parts of Europe), and in some areas recruitment to research or academic positions was very closed and not subject to the same equality and employment legislation we have in the UK.  The lesson here is make sure you understand the opportunities and challenges that may occur if you choose to locate to another country for your research.  As mentioned above, the EURAXESS network may be of use to you for gathering information.

I was reminded of the work LERU (League of European Research Universities) had done mapping research careers in Europe.  If you want to compare how a research career looks in different countries across Europe have a look at their academic career maps.

And it highlighted the benefit to me of taking time to go to conferences when you can, as most of the time you will learn something valuable!

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