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Junior researchers ‘need funding for career development’

More opportunities should be given to early career academics to lead their own research teams to foster independence and improve job security

A report from the League of European Research Universities has suggested that research agencies should provide funding for junior academics to develop their careers and leadership skills and head their own research teams.

The study, Delivering Talent: Careers of Researchers Inside and Outside Academia, argues the case that providing junior researchers with more independence early in their careers would help to improve job security and provide them with the experience and skills to advance their research career – either within or outside academia.

It says that research funding bodies should “ensure that funding schemes supporting the employment of early-career researchers fund both research work and researcher development”. The latter could include “scope for developing their own independent research ideas” and would allow them to “gain further skills apart from the research itself”, from activities such as participating in conferences, making poster presentations and taking courses.

The report also suggests that research agencies should offer schemes where a postdoctoral researcher can be the principal investigator for a grant project and lead a “small research group”. These researchers could spend approx. 10 days a year focusing on “personal and career development activities that do not relate solely to current research capability”, it adds.

Jan van der Boon, director of administration at Leiden University and lead author of the report, said that these recommendations were among a series of suggestions that aimed to help “young researchers have better possibilities to be independent at an earlier stage” of their career and “make the transfer between universities and other employment sectors better”.

He also added that the paper’s aim was to “get away from the doom and gloom” about the poor employment prospects in research and show that “career prospects are good if you take into account all kinds of trajectories [researchers] can follow in academia and outside academia”.

“But universities have to prepare researchers better for careers, and researchers themselves have to open themselves more to other opportunities,” he said.

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