Early-career researchers are often vulnerable to workplace bullying and harassment, and to under-recognition of their contributions. Researchers, policymakers and others have pointed to some of these struggles, including in Nature’s first survey of postdocs, in 2020.
Rethinking the activities that academia rewards has emerged as a key way to address these knotty issues. And junior scientists, who often underestimate their ability to effect change, can contribute to this rethinking process.
Momentum for change
In 2018, after seven years as a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher, I transitioned into a career in policy. I had the privilege of working for the Royal Society in London on its research-culture programme. The initiative examined the behaviours, values, expectations, attitudes and norms of academic research communities, and how these influence researchers and determine the way they conduct research.
The big takeaway was that academia struggles with issues such as a lack of support for junior researchers’ career development; over-reliance on metrics, leading to compromises on rigour and integrity; undervaluing of negative results and of replication studies; lack of transparency around hiring and promotions; and barriers to diversity and inclusion, to name just some. The programme also found that a highly competitive environment, combined with very narrow definitions of success, gives rise to many of these issues.