This article is translated from Dutch. The original is here
The Young Academy Leiden Platform surveyed some two hundred young researchers. “We also had some breakout sessions in smaller groups, to get more qualitative information”, YAL leader and political scientist Tom Louwerse says. “Both create the same image: young researchers – postdocs and young lecturers in particular – are very worried.” (results here in .pdf)
What worries do they have, then?
“We see a sharp decline in research productivity, especially among people with small children at home – we did our survey when the Dutch schools were still closed. There’s differences in this decline between researchers; for archaeologists, not being able to do field work is a really big problem.
“But the contact with colleagues and the ability to network is missed particularly sorely. For young researchers in particular, the opportunity to show the field who you are and what you can do is extremely important. Doing that online just isn’t the same.”
Wasn’t the whole world in lockdown? Meaning your competition had the same problems?
“Our survey shows that the differences are there. If you have to take care of someone at home, has a large impact on your productivity. It matters if you need access to test subjects or your research area in a different country. This causes differences between researchers, and it makes that some people could be more productive than usual, whereas others were completely stuck. That can cause further inequalities in the future.”
But now the kids are back to school and daycare, and the labs are open again. That was six weeks of quarantine, in which you could still catch up on some reading and writing, too. Is it really going to nip careers in the bud?
“Schools are partially open, and that gives the staff who have small children more time. But many among that group have really had no possibility to get some work done. They were and are busy with switching to and giving online teaching. Others are near the end of their short-term contracts, but haven’t finished their research. Also, a lot thing will still be impossible the coming months, such as field work and visiting conferences.”
Almost a quarter of those surveyed say the support offered by Leiden University was bad or nonexistent. What should be improved?
“The university is a big organization, and for many people the yardstick it is measured by, is their direct boss. Sometimes, the boss does very well, for instance by offering the aid of their network in times when networking is hard.
“We do, however, also get signals from people who were expected to perform at the usual levels really quickly. Which is not so obvious when you have small kids in your home. The same goes for digital support. The university was quick to ban the use of Zoom, but then you had to use an alternative, which was frustrating. I can understand how these people feel unsupported.”
During meetings of the university and faculty councils, those in charge keep repeating: look for custom solution, don’t ask for the impossible, don’t worry too much because we realize this is hard. Don’t you believe them?
“The message is heard, but that doesn’t take away the worries about your short-term contract or your unfinished research. This is not to blame the administration, but we do want to point out our worries, especially those considering inequality between scientists, and the long-term consequences. Now is the time to see how we can offer clarity to this group, quickly. Saying you intend to offer custom solutions is nice, but by now, we need to see some of them.”