Times of crisis and opportunity

Postgraduate training regimes need reforming to support a diversity of career paths


The crisis has shown that the need for STI expertise is not limited to the public laboratory; it is also important for business, government and NGOs, and contributes to societies’ resilience. Reforming PhD and post-doctoral training to support a diversity of career paths is essential for improving societies’ ability to react to crises like COVID-19, and to deal with long-term challenges like climate change that demand science-based responses. Reforms could also help relieve the precarity of early-career researchers, many of whom are employed on short-term contracts with no clear prospect of a permanent academic position. There has been a 25% increase in the number of people with PhDs in OECD countries over the past decade with no corresponding increase in academic posts. The pandemic is expected to make matters worse: more than half of the scientists participating in the OECD Science Flash Survey expect the crisis to negatively affect their job security and career opportunities (see figure).

New and more attractive career paths are required to provide greater security and alternative options for mobility in and out of academia and other research sectors. New incentives and measures for evaluating both individual and collective contributions to science need to be implemented to support these alternative career options. The crisis has also highlighted the importance of data-intensive science. A new cohort of digitally skilled research support professionals and scientists needs to be trained and embraced in academia.


Scientists’ expectations for a research career in light of the COVID-19 crisis

Number of national policy initiatives

Panel A shows the percentage of responses by scientists to the question, “As a result of the current crisis, have you personally experienced or do you expect to experience a change in your job security and career opportunities?” Panel B shows the percentage of all responses to the question, “How do you expect the world of science to emerge out of the current crisis, in terms of attractiveness of scientific careers?".

Source: OECD Science Flash Survey 2020, (accessed 1 October 2020). StatLink

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