Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Nicola King, postgraduate student at the University of Exeter

  In answer to the proposal to concentrate research in a smaller number of departments and the viability of having research only and teaching only departments.

  Top quality students are inspired to do research because they are taught by world-class chemists and can see the potential for careers in academia. A major part of any chemistry degree is practical work especially the opportunity to carry out research as part of a final year and it is often a natural progression to carry on to a PhD and have a career in chemistry as a result of this opportunity. The current quality and quantity of research students will not be maintained if under-graduates are taught by staff who do not carry out research. I am a final year PhD student and I remained at Exeter to do my PhD because I did the research element of my final year with an very well respected chemist and an internationally known expert in his field. Working with him in my final year inspired me to carry on research and do a PhD and I am now looking for a further university based position as a post-doctoral researcher with a view to a possible career in academia. However with the current trend for closing small departments and the lack of funding available I cannot see how I can achieve this, current post-docs and junior academics looking for positions are finding it almost impossible. If research is concentrated in a small number of institutions there will not be enough jobs for young academics to gain the experience needed to establish themselves in a very competitive area. There is much criticism of the "brain-drain" to Europe and America however in many cases it is the only option as there are not enough positions for those wishing to do scientific research and many are left with little choice but to go abroad.

  In conclusion, I have loved my time in Exeter, as an undergraduate I was inspired to be taught by academics who were doing cutting edge research and were not simply teachers, they had a real hands-on understanding of what they were teaching us and made it so much more real than just equations on paper. I carried on to do a PhD because I enjoyed working with an inspiring and well-respected academic who had previously taught me. I would like to think that I have a potential career in academia but am feeling very disillusioned with the way science is run and funded in this country and I cannot see that in five years time there will be a job for me here if the number of teaching and research universities continues to decline. Finally I am not alone in my opinions, many of the students I have spoken to do not see a bright future for themselves in chemistry in the current funding climate.

February 2005

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