New Swedish law may hurt postdocs
Forcing employers to hire workers after 14 months may discourage labs from taking on temporary staff, researchers say
This spring, Swedish Parliament
approved new rules limiting temporary employment -- forcing employers, including laboratories, to permanently hire anyone after they've worked for 14 months within a five-year period. Researchers have criticized the decision, arguing the temporary employment period is too short for junior researchers, including postdocs, to complete projects, possibly discouraging schools from hiring them even on a short-term basis.
The new employment rule "might be good in other business branches, but not in the university world," Jan Carlsted-Duke, Dean of Research at Karolinska Institutet
in Stockholm, told The Scientist
Most research projects
take an average of 36 months, according to Carlsted-Duke. If schools know they can only keep junior researchers, including postdocs, for 14 months before hiring them, they will likely rely more on staffers to do lab work -- depriving young scientists of the training and data they need to advance, he noted.
"We knew there were ongoing discussions at the political level about employment security, but frankly we thought that they would have come up with contracts of three years, a period we might have been able to cope with," he added.
The new rules, proposed by the Ministries of Industry, Employment and Communications in order to improve employment security, are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2007.
According to the latest official statistics
, Swedish R&D
expenditure totalled 4.3% of GDP, more than any other developed country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In Sweden, there is also an extensive use of English as a second language, making the country a more attractive place to work for many young scientists than other European countries.
However, there are a number of issues facing research in Sweden -- particularly, many scientists acknowledge that the Swedish research career pathway should be reshaped, and Swedish universities need more postdocs and junior scientists.
"In Sweden there is a much greater number of Ph.D. students than postdocs," Jan-Åke Gustfasson, Chairman of the Karolinska Institutet Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Novum Research Park
, told The Scientist
. "Postdocs are extremely precious, especially for developing groups, because they usually bring solid intellectual and technical skills. Sweden has an urgent need of them, but I am afraid that this law will make it impossible to fulfill this lack."
Another issue with the new temporary employment rule is it forces postdocs to settle on one lab or institution early on in their careers, preventing them from learning different techniques from different mentors at different labs, according to Said Eshaghi
, based at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet. "A postdoc may not even be interested in having a permanent position in (a) lab, but might just want to grow intellectually and learn some new techniques," Eshaghi told The Scientist
According to Mattias Wiggberg, president of the Swedish Association of Ph.D. Students
, the association has started discussing the potential impact of this employment rule on postdocs. "We don't have a clear opinion yet. Of course, we welcome any change would make the labor situation better, but it is too premature to give any certain judgement about it," he told The Scientist
Some researchers, however, are not hesitating to voice their opinions. "The new law will be a disaster for junior researchers," said neurobiologist Carlos Ibáñez
, at Karolinska Institutet.
Links within this article
Parliament of Sweden
M. Anderson, "US funds Swedish stem cell work," The Scientist
, March 30, 2004.
The Researcher's mobility portal in Sweden
J. Nyman, "Swedish budget disappointment," The Scientist
, September 15, 2004.
Novum Research Park
Swedish Association of Ph.D. Students
Carlos Ibáñez web page