Emerging scientists struggle to find post-doc work

Posted By TEU on Apr 19, 2012 |


Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 12

New Zealand has a funding system that rewards universities for training PhDs but discourages the employment of post doctorates. That is the criticism of Dr Melanie Massaro, author of an open letter to the government last year, challenging the government to create better employment opportunities for new and emerging researchers. Dr Massaro was speaking this week at a New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) conference. After outlining the struggle to cross the post-doctoral void to full employment, Dr Massaro compared post-doctoral fellowships to helicopters that carry PhD researchers over the void, to a position where they are able to compete with the overseas- trained scientists arriving on the international jumbo jet.

“We need more helicopters and we need them urgently.”

Dr Massaro’s challenge was exemplified later that night on TV3 with the story of Oxford University doctoral graduate Jo Chapman who has been unable to find permanent work in her field of expertise since returning to New Zealand.

Last week Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce responded to some of these concerns by proposing changes to the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships to repatriate overseas post-doctoral researchers and ensure post-doctoral researchers within New Zealand have sufficient opportunity to stay in the country.

Science reporter Peter Griffin said the general tone at the conference seemed to be that the minister’s changes were “merely tinkering at the edges” and they don’t address the deeper issue that opportunities for emerging scientists including those wanting to come back to New Zealand to continue their careers, are very limited, and that New Zealand underspends on postgraduate fellowships to the detriment of the science system.

Mr Griffin said that emerging scientists still had numerous issues with the newly established Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, including that the fellowships were available to scientists more advanced in their careers, potentially shutting out early and mid-career scientists who need financial support from beyond a scientific institution while they establish themselves in research.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. PBRF rort is fault of system, not universities
  2. Brains are draining earlier
  3. Secrecy around student loan budget changes
  4. Growing pacific student numbers creates challenges
  5. Casualisation, high workload key to Australian universities’ success

Other news

Last week Tertiary Updateincorrectly reported that Dr Jane Millichamp worked at Otago University’s Department of Psychology. She actually works in Psychological Medicine at the university’s Dunedin School of Medicine. We apologise to the University of Otago, and to readers, for the error.


The University of Canterbury announced last week it had awarded a UC Teaching Award for 2011 to six recipients including associate professor Peter Falkenberg (Theatre and Film Studies), whose department the university is currently in the process of closing. Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Ian Town congratulated Dr Falkenberg and said he would receive his award at a ceremony early next month. Hopefully he will also receive news that he still has a job?


Robert Birnbaum from the University of Maryland writes tongue-in-cheek onnew ways to rank universities. Suggestions include The ‘Jeremy Bentham system’ which would rank institutions, according to the level of happiness they provided and the ‘Olympic system’ — head-to-head feats of physical prowess amongst senior administrators. The problem, he notes, is that we get what we measure.


Almost 250 University of Otago students were suspended last year for failing to pass an adequate number of papers as the university increases its focus on producing quality students, vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne says –Otago Daily Times


Education experts have questioned National and ACT claims that charter schools will lift achievement in disadvantaged pupils. The study by 12 Massey University academics suggests the schools will cause more harm to those it intends to help – Stuff

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