Organisation - June 19, 2014

Who will stay in science?

Yvonne de Hilster

‘I don’t know whether I would advise young people to pursue a career in science at the moment,’ said Dutch academy of science (KNAW) chair Hans Clevers on 12 June during a forum discussion in Orion. Government budget cuts are casting a cloud over the future of science, he says.

What do young Wageningen researchers themselves think? Do they want to continue in research? Or get out?  

Anneke van de Boer

PhD student at Meteorology and Air Quality 

‘It is hard to admit it, but I don’t see a future for myself in science anymore. I like teaching too much just to do it as a stopgap. Also, I don’t fancy always having to stretch myself and compete like you have to in the tenure track which is compulsory here in Wageningen. Nor do I want to move on every one and a half years because you keep on having to look for another postdoc position. I would prefer to have a more secure income and I might want to start a family one day. At the same time, I realize it can be difficult outside the science world as well.’

Max-Bernhard Rudnick

PhD student at WU and NIOO-KNAW (from Germany) 

‘I’m about to finish my PhD and am looking for a job in Germany or another European country. My experience is that it’s getting more difficult to follow a career in science if you are not willing to sacrifice your private life. I’m quite passionate about science, but I also want to get settled somewhere and have a family life. Additionally, the pressure to publish is rising. In the long term this will kill creative thinking. If nothing is done, young scientists will turn into machines for producing data and publications. But if I had no hope of finding a research group that is committed to a good work-life balance and offers room for creativity, I wouldn’t try.’

Ingrid Vleghels

secretary of EPS graduate school 

‘We notice that PhD students sometimes find it hard to get a science job. At a university you are dependent on research grants, but the success rate is low due to the increasing competition. There is still some scope in companies. Within the Wageningen graduate schools we try to make it clear to PhD students during their studies that there are more options than research. In the course of a PhD project you learn all sorts of skills that can be useful outside the scientific world too. From developing and communicating ideas to organizing and networking. Not all PhD students are aware of this. And because they focus so much on their research they do not allow themselves much time for supplementary courses. Personally I didn’t want to focus on research after my PhD. I had discovered that I enjoy supervising and guiding people. And that’s what I do now.’

Naomi Duijvesteijn 

PhD at WU and TOPIGS (an international pig-breeding organization) 

‘I would not have done a PhD if I hadn’t seen a future for myself in science. But there is more to science than the university. After graduating I am going to carry on working for TOPIGS, and will still be doing research. The R&D department there produces scientific publications too. That is important to me, because you can share your knowledge. Because science is give and take, otherwise you never get any further. And if you want to be recognized as an innovative company, you will also have to prove that you have set up and carried through your research scientifically. My preference for a career in a company is because I see the direct application of knowledge as important and challenging.’ 

Tjerk Sminia 

PhD student at Organic Chemistry 

‘I think it is going to be very difficult to stay at the university after I graduate. The competition for the few tenure track positions is massive, and you have to keep on proving yourself. I think that is for the chosen few. Not that I don’t want a challenge, on the contrary, but applying for grants takes up so much time. There is also so much uncertainty, which affects your teaching and your research. And some research projects are much easier to sell than others. What I would like to see is some permanent posts being created at the university for PhD graduates who are not necessarily aiming to lead a research group and become professors. Because I would very much like to carry on combining research with education. Teaching is really very nice.’

Joris Sprakel 

Assistant professor at the Laboratory for Physical Chemistry and Colloids, and got a VENI grant in 2011

‘If I hadn’t seen any future in science I would now be running a restaurant in France. I think fundraising is no more difficult for young researchers than for established scientists. The success rate is indeed going down, but there are still possibilities. For me personally, it’s going pretty well. You have to be creative and establish lots of contacts in the industry. Because there is a shift going on from fundamental to applied research. People have to get used to that, but that is starting to come. Anyway, in spite of everything I still have a busy social life.’