The way research is conducted, and the norms, values, attitudes, and behaviours of research communities, have a huge effect on scientists and their output, as does the demographic composition of the scientific workforce. Over the course of the pandemic, the patterns of our working lives, in research and many other domains, have evolved rapidly – and in some cases almost seismically. That is why, in 2021, the Royal Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee convened an online meeting to define what changes are taking place in research cultures, and identify the emerging challenges and opportunities.
During the meeting, the challenge of demographic change, with rising numbers of older people and a falling birth rate, was very clearly presented in data prepared by the Office for National Statistics. Keynote speaker Professor James Banks [University of Manchester and Institute for Fiscal Studies] showed how our working lives are already longer – and retirement for skilled workers, such as researchers, will probably include a combination of pensions and continuing work. Many social changes, some of which were accentuated and even validated by the effects of the pandemic, also contribute to changing working lives: more part-time work, and more job transitions at various career phases, including late stage. The discussion highlighted that this is considered desirable for all concerned. The skills and experience of older scientists are likely to be very useful in mixed teams, which may well be led by researchers at the intermediate stage of their career. However, in a system where resources of both funding and space are limited, there was considerable enthusiasm for promoting intergenerational fairness. The most senior scientists need not necessarily remain in a group leadership role until the very end of their career. Their many hard-won skills can be used to help establish and sustain younger leaders. Special support systems are being developed for early-career researchers (ECRs) but there are fewer resources being directed to mid-career researchers (MCRs), who, in their prime, may be in the best position to meet the demands of senior leadership roles. Action is needed here.
Read the full blog on The Royal Society Website and hear about the next steps in their work to support Mid-Career Researchers.
Interested in this topic? Have a listen to a special podcast series we recorded in 2021 on the challenges for Mid-Career Researchers.