Early career scientists have the intellectual ability needed to develop strong national research and innovation systems, but funding shortages and lack of resources and support are major obstacles hindering their careers, says a report by the Global Young Academy.
The academy, which brings together early career scientists to discuss global research issues and work on international projects, released a pilot report of their Global State of Young Scientists, or GloSYS, project last month at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
The Global Young Academy has 155 members and 63 alumni from 55 countries worldwide across a wide range of disciplines. Its report looked at the working conditions and career development opportunities of early career scientists globally.
Authored by Canadian researcher Catherine Beaudry, an associate professor studying innovation and the impact of science and technology at École Polytechnique de Montréal, and GloSYS project officer in Germany Irene Friesenhahn, the report explored the concerns and opportunities for the career development of young researchers.
The academy surveyed 650 active researchers between the ages of 30 and 40 from 12 countries – Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tunisia and the United States.
Friesenhahn said the countries in the precursor study were exemplary and did not give a full representation of the situation on their continents. This was a very first step intended to focus more strongly on countries in which information is scarce.
“We find a lot of studies on Europe and North America, therefore we wanted to concentrate on those parts of the world which have been under-researched so far,” she said.
The one-year period set for the survey meant countries were selected in which the Global Young Academy could rely on supportive networks, which helped establish contacts to interview participants and to circulate the survey, she said.
Regionally, results showed that more than 50% of respondents from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas considered lack of funding opportunities to be a universal concern affecting young researchers.
On top of the affected list is the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, at 71.2%, Africa at 70.3% and the Americas at 66.7%. Respondents the world over, however, estimated their chances of winning funding at around 50%.
Developing countries could be better prepared to deal with the needs of early career scientists by finding matching solutions for problems, the report found.
Friesenhahn said young scholars of today were the leaders of science and innovation of tomorrow, and with research systems constantly changing, so were expectations of the job.
“We see a remarkable increase in student populations almost everywhere in the world, information and communication technologies are on the rise and offer new opportunities and new potential, and mobility is easier than ever before. This has affected the work routines and careers of young scholars but also what is expected from them,” she added.
“The tasks of researchers and scientists have become more diverse but the working conditions, the support and training, hasn't fully adapted to these new realities,” she told University World News.
While only 15% of early career researchers in the Asian countries surveyed said they had suffered from job insecurity, this compared with 83% of respondents in Germany, the only European representative.
In Africa and the Middle East, 30% of respondents viewed job insecurity as a major worry, and 30.8% early career researchers in MENA countries considered political instability and war to be career obstacles.
However, more than 80% of respondents across all countries said that they had pursued a science career for the love of the work.
“The opportunity for intellectually stimulating work, the passion for a field of research and the chance to contribute to new knowledge are the most esteemed benefits of working in academia,” according to the report.
Friesenhahn said that in developing countries a lack of basic statistics that would help monitor change and improvement over time was often experienced.
Another issue was that there seemed to be strong focus on the different challenges these nations faced, such as lack of equipment or limited access to resources – but often successes and best practices were not sufficiently communicated and shared within the country and within regions.
“Collaboration and exchange would be essential to learn from each other and maybe adopt practical solutions,” she said.
Young researchers in Africa often shared a strong connectedness with their countries and many of them stated that they aimed to contribute to the greater good of their nations with their research.
The report highlighted the importance of having a circle of people – supervisors, mentors and senior peers – who could advise, reassure in giving feedback, exchange ideas and discuss results with young scientists on their career decisions and research results.
“Providing a nurturing, supportive and inspiring environment would not only be beneficial for these young scholars but also for their countries,” Friesenhahn said.
The case of South Africa
Alex Broadbent, co-chair of the South African Young Academy of Science, or SAYAS – which was a key partner in the survey – said that until the report there had been virtually no information available to policy-makers about the development of the young scientist cohort, which was the group that would drive scientific development in South Africa and the region.
Broadbent, an associate professor and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, said the report was also useful in identifying problems faced by young scientists in South Africa, and for putting them in a global perspective.
“It enables the sharing of solutions that have been implemented in different parts of the world, and helps us to learn from global partners. It is an extremely valuable tool for South African science policy, and will have a real impact in shaping the future of research in our country,” he told University World News.
Broadbent said that if South Africa was serious about developing its science capacity to the extent set out in policy documents such as the National Development Plan, then much more in-depth knowledge was needed and the report was an excellent start.
The report also demonstrated the need for further research on the state of young scientists nationally, regionally and globally.
The Global Young Academy has received financial backing from the Volkswagen Foundation, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, UNESCO, the World Academy of Sciences, the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD, and the Robert Bosch Foundation, among others.
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