Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 67-79)




  67. We are moving on to the next stage of contract researchers, you have started off and then moved on. You have all left academic research or plan to do so. Can you tell me why you did it or is that too obvious after the first two sets of witnesses?

  (Dr Bradburne) I have only been on a short-term contract for two years and I did it because now I can. I am young enough that I can move when I want to and get out of the trap rather than hit 32/33 and be told "There is no place for you" or even worse go on for longer than that.

  68. Eva?
  (Dr Link) I actually did not move on. Although officially I am unemployed I do work full-time at UCL unpaid. I do still fight my corner because I was brought to this country to do research into particular cancer, which is currently untreatable. Melanoma, as you know, is one of the most malignant and, at the moment, one of the most deadly cancers. Now I have in my hands a potentially successful treatment which is awaiting clinical trial. Everything is ready to start this trial. We have all licences, we have all permissions, there is a team waiting to start the trial. We hear about the priorities and that there is alarm in this country about cancer treatment. But I cannot start this trial because I have no post. I am still trying to resolve the situation at UCL, and asking why and what is the reason for not allowing me to continue my research after 20 years in the institution to which I was brought specially from abroad to do this particular research. Why, when my research was approved for the clinical trial, I could not continue it and try to help people who are terminally ill and, at the moment, without hope of having an alternative treatment.

Dr Turner

  69. Is there funding available for you to do it?
  (Dr Link) I am trapped in a vicious circle because without a post I cannot apply for funding. At a certain point UCL gave me a condition that if I had funding for the trial I would get a post. Somehow I did manage to obtain funding for the trial but the post did not follow. So the funds have been withdrawn because I could not carry on the research as I was officially unemployed. Actually when I obtained the funding my contract was terminated by UCL so it was the opposite to what I was promised.

  70. You have a serious dispute.
  (Dr Hill) At the University of Bradford I had 13 contracts over nine years, the longest was two years, the shortest were one month each. I had no input to the management of the department, as a contract research staffer and I could not apply for research funding under my own name. Now I have left and work in the private sector I have a permanent contract. I have direct input to the management of the company and I can apply for research funding in my own name under the Department of Trade and Industry's Small Business Research Initiative, those are the reasons.

  71. Right. Well what would it take to change the system to give you, let us say, at least happier experiences in university research?
  (Dr Bradburne) I would say I have become increasingly fed up with being told by everyone around me in the lab, my line managers, etc, that they can see a glittering research career for me, that I am an asset to the place that I work in, that I am too good to leave bench science, and I turn around to them and say "Fine, give me a job then" and they cannot. They can say "Well I am sure we can find you some funding for the next three years". Fine. Then what do I have at the end of it, no guarantee at all, even though I might be the best scientist in the world if there is no position for me, that is it, sorry, goodbye.

  72. Eva, your case sounds absolutely horrendous. It bedevils understanding. Can you see any way in which it should be changed?
  (Dr Link) I think that although it is quite a popular point of view this lack of funding, from my experience it is not simply a lack of funding. A number of permanent contracts for university posts were available but they were never offered to me. I think that there is a parallel mechanism which is used to select those who will be allowed to be successful and those who will not. What I am trying to say is that there are two points. It is sufficiently difficult to be successful in scientific research and carry out successful research but, on top of that, there is an additional factor that regulates who will be permitted to be successful and who will not. I am bumping my head against the so-called glass ceiling. It seems I am not allowed to be successful but because I have become one and I have got something in my hands that might help people who are terminally ill, suddenly I have become not welcome. Why is that? Is it because I am a woman? Because I am a foreigner? Because I am a foreign woman? I do not know what the reason is. But it is obviously this factor which prevents my employment and prevents me from continuing my research. I think that this factor should be identified and dealt with because this is an artificial way of stopping the progress of research which, in this case, can immediately lead to a practical outcome.


  73. Matt?
  (Mr Hill) Really just the things that I have described that I have now working in the private sector a permanent contract or at least an indefinite contract to remove the stress of facing, in some cases monthly, a date at which I may be on the dole, some sort of input to my own destination in terms of applying for funding. In order to get these from the private sector I did not actually get a big pay rise either I just wanted to make the point that I took about a 22 per cent pay cut in order to leave this dreadful situation I was working under in the university. For a 34 year old parent with a mortgage it is a big decision but due to the career advantage and the lack of stress relatively in the new position, it is one I have had to make in favour of leaving higher education.

Dr Turner

  74. Would it be fair to say you value security more than money?
  (Dr Bradburne) Definitely.
  (Dr Hill) Yes.

Mr Harris

  75. From your experience as short-term contract workers and your perspective now being outside that, can you give us some feeling of what you fear could be the effect in the long term on the British science base? That is a big question. Do you have any view about how detrimentally damaging this kind of practice is going to be on science, your morale, the structure or whatever?
  (Dr Bradburne) Short-term researchers are the ones who do the work. The group leaders are usually so tied up fighting for money that they do not do much science any more, or a lot of them do not because they cannot. People like us are the ones who end up doing the science. If you scare those people away, and unfortunately people are becoming more selfish in their career aspirations and so are not going to put up with constant beating downs, then simply you are not going to get the high quality science done and the best people will get up and walk away.

Dr Turner

  76. Did the stresses that you have all clearly suffered have an effect on the quality of the work you are doing yourselves?
  (Dr Hill) I was continually applying for jobs. It is not something that is particularly pleasant to get knocked back a lot of times. Finally I was successful. I was in negotiations with my current employer for months before I actually received a job offer. That distracts one from doing the research and putting everything into the research you are doing. My bosses at the university said that I did a good job but I feel I could have done a better job if I had felt there was more in it for me in terms of self-determination in terms of my career.

  77. Do you think Gareth Roberts' Report is offering any solutions?
  (Dr Hill) No.
  (Dr Bradburne) I have looked at the three career trajectories and they all suffer from holes in them. The academic one, as we have heard, is really just the status quo and relies on this publication lottery and this permission for you to become permanent so you have to be lucky. The associate requires a major change in funding. I think it is a good idea but it will require a big, big change in science funding.

  78. You have suffered from a clearly unstructured random kind of career path. Was there anything structured in that at all? Was there any training structure involved in your careers?
  (Dr Hill) Half way through my first year I enrolled as a part-time PhD student, that was my decision, it was not something which was suggested to me. The university helped me by waiving the fees as I was a full-time member of staff at the University of Bradford. They do this for any full-time member of staff who goes for part-time education. I held together that part-time PhD over six years, successfully winning new contracts for myself by doing whatever I could to stay in the department. The career structure which has emerged is one that I have completely designed myself. I have gritted my teeth and got on with it.


  79. Did you ever have the chance to apply for a permanent job within the university at all?
  (Dr Hill) There are always, every now and again, permanent jobs being advertised but none in my particular research area. I worked on contaminated land, air pollution and water pollution. Perhaps because I was not able to become specialised through searching around for the next contract that was detrimental to my successfully winning a permanent contract.

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