It is clear from the report (in Swedish) on the reality for young researchers published by the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers (SULF) and National Junior Faculty (NJF) ,that the position of young researcher can be something of a quagmire. A survey sent to around 1,500 young researchers reveals that their reality can look very different when it comes to employment conditions, titles, research and position.
Research assistant, assistant researcher, lab manager are just some of all the variants of titles that are found, around 20 in all, that emerged from the survey. This is not only confusing but also risks researchers getting locked into the university where they began their research, as it is hard to say what would be the corresponding position at other universities. Another risk according to the report, is also that it is more difficult to apply for research funding if nobody knows what your position entails even if the most common titles seem to be postdoc, researcher, research assistant, assistant professor.
Living on a grant or salary only for as long as the research group funding lasts, creates an uncertain situation and makes both forward planning and planning your life more difficult.
Being able to freely apply for research funding from some external research financing body is positive, the difficulty is that without a long-term plan on what the next step is, means expectations as to future career development can come to naught. This increases the risk of stress and anxiety.
There is a big need for clearer career paths for the group of researchers at our universities. At the same time, research groups/units/departments ought to work together to a greater extent than all and sundry polishing their own CVs. This would benefit both education and research in the long run. No matter where you sit in the nomenclature, everyone in a research group would gain, and it would probably create less stress and lead to even more successful research.
A lack of job security and unclear career paths are something KTH has worked hard to remedy, but there is very clearly still a lot to be done here. Above all, there is a need to clearly state whether there is a next step on the career ladder when a researcher is accepted. Perhaps there isn’t one.
At the moment, researchers as a group perform a diversity of tasks. Some are given responsibility for an infrastructure, others can be a centre director and yet another group can engage in activities that are very similar to being employed in a teaching capacity (assistant professor, associate professor and professor). It is less common for a researcher to work in the same way as a lecturer, whose principal role is teaching. Within the parameters of this diversity of tasks, there need to be some kind of structure and clarity.
If we are not able to get things in order, there is a risk that the repopulation of teaching and research expertise will be endangered.