The coronavirus is threatening the careers of talented researchers. This group of individuals is as vulnerable as it is systemically important for science and academia. What has to be done now in order to support them is the subject of a guest commentary written by the President of the Humboldt Foundation Hans-Christian Pape for the science blog jmwiarda.de.
In research institutions and the teaching field, junior researchers are doing extraordinary things – be it fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus, developing medicines and vaccines or studying the societal aspects of the crisis and government measures, Pape emphasized, calling for protecting systemically important groups of workers such as junior researchers.
For many, the scientific findings from their work – and consequently proof of their achievements that is necessary for advancing to the next stage in their careers – are currently in jeopardy due, for example, to the interruption of their lab work or the fact that it is impossible for them to travel to important archives and other research sources. “Even established researchers are at risk of seeing their scientific careers founder”, Pape stressed. “Internationally mobile researchers who can’t take up a fellowship or a new job in another country as a result of the current travel restrictions or who have had to interrupt a research stay or even cut it short due to official measures are particularly impacted by this. Not only have they lost the opportunity to work but in many cases, they have also lost the income they need to support themselves”, Pape said, describing the situation.
The changes to the Act of Academic Fixed-Term Contract that the Bundestag recently adopted to make the law more flexible will open up important prospects, Pape noted, adding that more will nonetheless be needed to protect talented individuals. “Extending all fixed-term employment contracts by six months would be the logical way to implement the recent resolutions concerning the Act of Academic Fixed-Term Contract”, said Pape.
“As experienced researchers, we must and will stand up for our teams. Research organisations, universities, research funding bodies as well as ministries that provide funding are called upon here to enable this. If it hasn’t been possible to date to provide a satisfactory response to the issue of career prospects for young researchers, we certainly can’t risk that the system’s weaknesses lead to the failure of a generation of young researchers”, the President of the Humboldt Foundation underscored.