Welcome to the second part of our What’s on-series “A closer look at Neuroscience”. As you (hopefully) remember, in November 2018, we started with interviewing young scientist from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. This time the same questions were spread much further north at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. A couple of Postdocs, PhD-, MSc-, and undergraduate students were bothered with 6 questions to get a peak under the surface of the neuroscience community in Scotland’s capital.
Everybody taking part in this survey from Postdoc to undergraduate was very aware of the high importance of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. A variety of institutes performing research in different areas of neuroscience from basic molecular mechanisms to therapeutics and drug development for neuropathies. Bachelors and Masters Courses are offered as well as different Postgraduate programs. Even other scientific specifications often offer a connection to neuroscience, like neuropharmacology. This thriving environment was also mentioned by a number of the people presented with our questions as a major advantage of working in Edinburgh. Students as well as postdocs seem pretty happy with the community feel within and between research groups and the support between staff members. Perfect, welcome to neuroparadise! The end!
Hang on, not so fast. The famous “your career in 5 years question” is still a big one. The majority of participant’s wishes to continue their career in neuroscience. Depending on the current status, this involves either doing a PhD or working in a permanent research position, ideally with self-secured funding. Interestingly, leading a research group was explicitly mentioned only once. When it comes to where these goals would preferably be achieved the participants seemed to be quite flexible between staying in the UK or leaving it for other parts of Europe, or North America. Private life, reputation and output of the institute and the project itself were more important than the actual location. Being free to choose where to go was raised to be important or at least extremely helpful to push a scientific career forward.
OK! So flexibility helps you on science, makes sense. What else? Which skills do people think they need to achieve those career goals. Most participants, despite their position, seemed confident in actually having a good basic scientific skillset already. Therefore, requirements independent of what a particular person was planning for their career future were more in the range of so called soft skills like presenting yourself and your work, networking, leadership, confidence and the ability of switch off from time to time came up as top hits.
It seems young scientists in Edinburgh mostly know what they have and what they need so far. Since this a look at the real situation, there of course also some current worries, one of them was the short contracts, especially for Postdocs. These make it difficult to fulfil the duties of your current job and to make the first steps towards scientific independence at the same time, especially if you want to have an actual work-life balance or have to manage multiple expectations from PIs. More special staff dedicated to supervising students in the lab was suggested by survey participants in order to relief the work load on research staff. Zooming out from the individual, what could the future hold for neuroscience in the UK? Surprise! We are back to the “B”-word. A reduction in tow of the main fundamental elements of neuroscience, funding and international collaborations, due to Brexit and the related uncertainties, is a major worry for many researchers here. Along with that, the overwhelming power of journals and recent discussions from funding bodies to regulate publishing of their grant awardees (Plan S) causes uncertainty. To get more reassurance, more governmental funding and progression of institutes like the DRI (Dementia Research institute) offering jobs to young researchers could help, according to our survey.
Last but not least: we are ISN, right? So what can we do? Anything specific the Edinburgh’s young scientists would like? Bring it on, guys! Surprisingly, quite a number of the participants have not been much exposed to scientific societies so far, so the question what could societies do was meant with: what are they doing? (Well, YSSC get your skates on, there is obviously work to do!). For those who have heard about ISN, SFN and others offering more funding opportunities, especially for visits to other labs around the globe and student summer internships as well as helping young scientists to develop skills like networking was added to the list along with general career advice.
So what the take home message be now? Well what you take from this depends on where you are, so we won’t take the fun away from you to make your own conclusions. We will make ours after we have heard from all continents! But there are defiantly already some surprising insights. More to come from another location, next month, stay tuned!