The Sciences

Are There Too Few Jobs In Neuroscience?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticOct 10, 2016 7:31 PM

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Is European neuroscience facing a jobs crisis? Writing in The Lancet Neurology, Mario Bonato and Esperanza Jubera-Garcia sound the alarm:

As young European neuroscientists, we want to bring attention to the dramatic absence of professional long-term opportunities that researchers are facing mostly, although not exclusively, in the south of Europe. In the past few years, young scientists from several European countries have been forced to move to other countries, or to quit research altogether, because the chances for them to secure a permanent position in academia are very low.

Bonato and Jubera-Garcia discuss the lack of permanent faculty positions in the brain sciences, focusing on the worsening situation in Italy and Spain:

Recruitment for new personnel in Italy (tenure-track researcher positions in public universities) across all disciplines decreased from more than 1500 per year between 2005 and 2010, to fewer than 300 per year after 2010. The average age of a full professor in Italy is now 59 years... Spain has lost about 14,000 researchers [across all disciplines] from 2010-14, and 3,000 in 2014 alone.

They conclude that the future of neuroscience is at stake:

Neuroscience has benefitted hugely from the work of European researchers; however, the almost complete recruitment freeze across several countries in the continent is seriously threatening the future contributions of a whole generation.

In my view, the problem goes beyond neuroscience - all of science is affected by a demographic crisis caused by growing numbers of PhD students entering the ecosystem and competing for a static, or shrinking, number of more senior positions. To survive, junior researchers need to constantly generate outputs - i.e. papers - and this creates a situation in which p-hacking and other problematic practices thrive. At the end of the day, if your job depends on publishing papers and publishing depends on getting a p-value below 0.05 - then you'll find a way to find p-values below 0.05. I'm not sure how to solve this problem but I wonder whether setting limits on the number of PhD students allowed to graduate from each institution might be part of the answer.

Bonato M, & Jubera-Garcia E (2016). The sharp drop in the number of faculty positions is compromising the future of neuroscience. The Lancet Neurology, 15 (11), 1118-9 PMID: 27647639

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