Athena Swan

Athena Swan promotes and supports the careers of women in Science, Engineering and Technology (STEM), and aims to address gender inequalities and imbalance in these disciplines and, in particular, the under-representation of women in senior roles.

Friday, 19 December 2014

In the news - not the REF!

For those in post-REF recovery, you will be pleased to know that is the last mention of it in this blog post! Somewhat lost in the build-up, however, was a string of items about the ups and downs of being a temporary researcher (PhD student/post doc), in addition to the usual selection of thoughts on gender diversity at work.

In the States, concern that the lack of permanent positions is driving post docs out of research was broached from several angles. This article in the THE argues that fewer post docs should be available, but better paid, so that they are reserved for people actually intending to go into research careers instead of becoming a 'holding pattern.' The Science Careers blog was alive with articles, including this one on a new report from the
U.S. National Academies, called 'The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited', summarising clear concerns about the current research training process and ways to mitigate them, echoing the arguments in the THE article (fewer, better paid positions for those most likely to enter research careers). Science Careers also interviewed the chair of the report,

Gregory Petsko, and reflected on the numbers of doctorates and post docs in the States, released as part of the National Science Foundation's report 'Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013.'

Meanwhile, the Royal Society released a report on doctoral training to help students and their mentors manage career expectations, not necessarily in academia. The group's chair, Athene Donald, discussed the results on both the Royal Society's blog In verba and on her own blog at Occam's Typewriter. In Australia, a new article in the Journal of Further and Higher Education reflected on efforts to develop an early career mentor programme, which simultaneously created new opportunities and added to the pressures felt by the mentees.

Concerns were also raised about how to make science a desirable career choice, whatever path you ultimately travel. The Science Careers blog argued that academia needs to focus more on the novel and creative aspects that (usually) get us into science in the first place instead of the increasingly hypercompetitive and unstable careers market, focussed only on the relentless need to write papers and grants. A later post discussed a new report, which concluded that fewer women and minorities in the States were interested in a research career at the start of their PhDs, and dropped much faster than for white men over the course of their degrees. Since this effect was observed even when controlled for research productivity, self-confidence, or how the scientists describe their relationship with their adviser, solving these problems is not as simple as increasing the numbers of underrepresented groups in the PhD pool.

Academia generally came in for a beating, with a paper published in Learning and Teaching considering the effects of management tactics to quantify individual outputs, is creating an increasingly insecure work environment and ultimately replacing collegiality with competition. The Guardian went one step further, arguing the increasing struggle for research funding is leading to a bullying culture, which universities and HR departments were not taking seriously enough.

Finally, there were several stories from the business world. The NY Times reported on the growing trend of women choosing to leave their jobs behind after having children. While many of the reasons given were personal, employment policies in the States, such as paid maternity leave and flexible working arrangements, were felt to be considerably behind those in Europe, even if European policies came with their own drawbacks. Two articles considered the roles of men in promoting gender equality at work, one accusing male tech workers of giving only lip service to their efforts, while the other highlighted programmes that are making a difference.

On which note, a happy Christmas break to you all, and see you in the new year!

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