Are researchers ‘aliens’ from another planet?

Must the profile of an ideal researcher in the European Research Area really be someone who works day and night at the lab, even on Sundays? Flexible and ready to travel abroad at the drop of a hat. Accustomed to the uncertainties of their career and ready to hop from one temporary contract to another, driven by an all-consuming obsession for research – from doctorate to grave?

The answer is no. Researchers really do have private lives and do not spring up readyformed. Research work is in no way comparable to a factory assembly line. For instance, exploratory research involves many days of hard toil that do not necessarily lead to results. Ideas do not come to order. And although passion is a prerequisite for research, this should not equate to self-sacrifice.

To encourage talented young people – especially women – to embrace a career in science, they must be offered working conditions and job prospects at least equivalent to those in comparable professions. It is essential for the work of young researchers to be governed by a proper contract that includes social benefits. At present many doctoral contracts do not even incorporate a maternity clause!

And although mobility can certainly enrich a researcher’s career, it must be acknowledged that family life imposes its own constraints and that many obstacles still remain in this area.

What is more, many scientists are employed in the field of research policy, or in administration, development or technology, and can pursue their research work only on a part-time basis. Years after leaving university, such scientists often wish to exploit this non-academic experience by embarking on research or a doctoral project.

Researchers should be seen not as aliens from outer space but as an integral part of our society.

Wolfgang Eppenschwandtner, Policy Officer, European Council for Doctoral
Candidates and Junior Researchers (Eurodoc)