How the career path to principal investigator is narrowing

From Nature Careers

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A study conducted over more than two decades at a major European research institute has recorded a marked drop in the percentage of trainees who become principal investigators (PIs) in academia.

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), based in Heidelberg, Germany, tracked the career outcomes of 2,284 researchers who had completed PhDs or postdoctoral positions at one of the six EMBL campuses between 1997 and 2020.

The preprint study, which was published this month, found that the road to a PI role has clearly narrowed. Among researchers whose careers arcs could be verified through online searches, 44% of those who finished their postdoc positions between 1997 and 2004 had become PIs within five years1. For those who finished after 2013, only 30% were PIs five years later. Study co-author Rachel Coulthard-Graf, a career-development adviser at the EMBL, says that although she wouldn’t discourage anyone who aspired to become a PI, she wants researchers to be aware that many other career options exist. Being a PI “is still a realistic career option,” she says, “but we want to be transparent.”

Read the full article on the Nature Careers website –

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