Succeed as a young scientist at SLU – Future Faculty Workshop

By Daniel Lundberg Department of Chemistry at SLU in Uppsala

On March 24th, Future Faculty arranged a workshop on career paths for young scientists at SLU. Invited speakers were Git Claesson Pipping (SULF), Carolyn Glynn (NL faculty office) and Kristina Glimelius (NL faculty Dean).

Quick reference text with links to video clips

– Anke Herrmann

After welcoming the audience at the Future Faculty workshop and the schedule for the day, Anke presented the background of what Future Faculty is and how it can help in the progress as a scientist.
Future Faculty – an organization for young scientists at SLU with lunch meetings held the first Monday of every month (next meeting: May 3, 2010). Future Faculty organizes courses and seminars, most recently the effects of the Swedish Employment Security Act (LAS), and works as a channel for information for events held on the national level and discussions within the realms of politics.

The most likely funding for young scientists, based on the result of Formas’ distribution of funds for 2009, is a Post Doc position or a FoAss. How the future distribution of funds will look like will be determined in June 2010.

How to create attractive career paths for young scientists

– Git Claessson Pipping, SULF

Git explained what her organization, the Swedish Association of University Teachers, can do for its members,and continued by informing how young scientist can find the best way of improving their career paths. Research is seldom viewed as the ongoing process it actually is. The Swedish Employment Security Act essentially allows universities to let people go,contrary to its initial intention. This is tightly linked to the fact that research is often funded by short-term contracts. The responsibility of informing a Ph.D. student about a future research career should lie with the employer, in this case ultimately the supervisor. The commitment of the career paths of all scientists should also lie with the employer, that is the respective university.

Applying for funding? How young scientists increase their competiveness

– Carolyn Glynn, NL faculty office

Carolyn told the audience how well the SLU researchers did with respect to funding. A list of how to improve a funding application that summed up the basic improvements given by reviewers of these previous applications. The definition of a junior researcher is anyone that is holding a position, those that received their Ph.D. within the last seven years as well as all post docs, not those on stipends or other forms that do not include actual employment. The proportion of junior and senior researchers has changed over the years, and within the different faculties, where the NL faculty has the highest of the faculties at SLU. The variation within the separate departments is even larger and a slide describing all individual departments at was shown. Tips on increasing chance of funding includes knowledge about how the financing system works (resource allocation models), knowing what funding is available (Grant Office, SLU), increasing competitiveness by thinking strategically (reading granting agencies strategies), emphasize the rare qualities you have and how your previous work and publications is connected with your project, and follow up your proposal regardless if it is accepted or rejected. Finally, a young researcher can also be more successful in getting a grant from a smaller granting agency, rather than aiming for the two big ones, VR and Formas, straight away.

NL’s long-term career concept for young scientists

– Kristina Glimelius, NL faculty dean

Kristina started by stressing the importance of Future Faculty, and the work that has been done already. Explaining that there is no possibility of keeping all young researchers, she continued to explained that SLU even so can help young researchers in the beginning of their career path. The Ph.D. studies, in addition of being an education, serves a basis from which the next step in a research career can be taken. The post doc period ought to be a place with very good or excellent research in a new subject where you can learn new methods and techniques. Establish contacts and publish your results while enjoying life! After post doc, applying for a position as an assistant professor can be somewhat tricky. It may be possible to return to your former supervisor, though this normally not the most optimal way to go. Find a new research group, be dedicated and research close to full time (80 %), leaving the remaining part to teaching and other possible duties. Take the docent courses and prepare your docent application. Find your own research niche and decide whether research really is your future, based on your own talents. If so, apply for funding and keep your CV up to date. Finally apply for docent competence. Research should be fun, exciting, and challenging, even though it is not always successful. The faculty’s strategic initiatives include research schools, FoAss positions, and additional support to young researchers (250000 SEK/year). Also, large grants (over 5 million SEK) obtain an additional 20 % support from the faculty. Higher positions are meant be reached by following a tenure track with at least 20 % support from the department. The future includes the possibility to obtain a position as a promoted professor and ultimately a full professorship. Remember that strong research environments will be supported through evaluations like KoN. Support will be given in the form of financial contribution towards a future career (karriärbidrag). New positions as extension service (samverkanstjänster) are proposed, where the discussion has already started as one part of the NL faculty’s future strategies.

Q & A session

What is your opinion about the development of strong research groups?

If the research group is large enough, it is possible to return to the same group but not necessarily directly under the former supervisor. Kristina: NL follows the current trend in research supporting groups that are considered strong environments. Git: It is important to remember that the top research groups that did not get funding may still be excellent. Carolyn: Show the excellence wherever possible.
Who will, more precisely, get the support from the KoN assessment?
Kristina: SLU is unique in the Swedish educational system, and there are areas where we should be excellent. These groups will naturally get part of the funding, but the final decision will be taken on a faculty board meeting on April 21. Most of the funds are going to those groups considered excellent, but it is already clear that the money will not be distributed equally, meaning that some groups may be disappointed.

What is your view on the use of the post doc if I am not a post doc?

Git: If you are not a researcher, you should not be employed as a post doc. It has been discussed, on the national level, that SLU has interpreted this possibility of hiring people in a different way than what it is supposed to be. Kristina: SLU is the only one that has FoMa group, and can as such not be compared with other universities. Also, they may be trying to find a position for you to apply for through the stepwise career track (forskarlärarkarriär). I therefore support the university standpoint, and we are doing the best we can with the resources that we have.

Why not be more open with the fact that the university cannot keep all researchers?

Kristina: Perhaps we need to cancel certain research areas within the university to support the best groups in a better way. Git: Universities should not keep all those who receive a Ph.D. to make them realize that there are other career paths. It should not be considered a failure even if you do not stay in academia. The government analysis of university personnel were quite clear that the bottleneck should come as quickly as possible. (includes additional follow-up questions from the audience)

The department hires lecturers and pays for the stepwise career track. Will more funds be available or where will the money come from?

Kristina: We should recruit lecturers and professors to get new ideas into the departments, just like young scientists should feel free to more around. Carolyn: The tenure should be a quality stamp. Git: Long-term planning is vital for any department, or else the focus may be directed too heavily on only teaching and not teaching and research. There should be a good mix or young and senior researchers, which only can be obtained through long-term planning.

General comment

Anke: There is a possibility to arrange courses through Future Faculty, since it may be hard or sometimes even impossible for post docs to participate in courses directed towards Ph.D. students.

Is there any possiblity for us younger scientists to have funds to apply that is supplied by the university?

Kristina: We should not act as a research council, but funds are directed to the departments. Anke: I would personally support funding in this way.

Anke thanks everyone for coming and welcomes everyone to the next Future Faculty meeting May 3, 2010.

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