Life on the Upswing for UK Postdocs

FEATUREBest Places to Work 2006: Postdocs Life on the Upswing for UK PostdocsBY STEPHEN PINCOCKARTICLE EXTRASRelated Articles: Best Places to Work 2006: Postdocs The J. David Gladstone Institutes Top 2006 List Cancer Centers Court Postdocs Feds Win with D.C. Centrality Postdocs Blossom at Plant Science Centers Switzerland: High Standards and Quality Science Long Live the Northland!Tables: Top 35 Institution

Stephen Pincock
Feb 28, 2006

Best Places to Work 2006: Postdocs

Life on the Upswing for UK Postdocs

The United Kingdom may be home to a disproportionate number of highly ranked institutions in this year's survey, but it would be incorrect to assume that life is a bed of roses for the country's postdocs.

For one thing, cash flow remains a serious problem. "Postdoc jobs do not pay enough in the UK," says Simon Felton, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Council. He says finance is a long-term problem that leaves staff feeling vulnerable, makes it hard to get mortgages, and leads to significant recruitment and retention problems.

Some of those problems may ease, however, as growing numbers of UK institutes put postdocs on permanent contracts. The University of Bristol is leading this trend: Felton reports that about 50% of its postdoctoral researchers now have permanent contracts.

The European Union's directive on fixed-term contracts will have a further effect on the situation for hundreds of postdocs in the coming year, when those who have been on fixed-term contracts for more than four years will be automatically entitled to a permanent contract.

But whether life as a UK postdoc is going to get any better is anyone's guess, says Paul Andrews, a cell biologist and co-chair of the School of Life Science's postdoc association at 7th-ranked University of Dundee. "What's certain is, simply allowing the status quo to continue is at odds with the grassroots feeling."