Scientists on the Move

Universities play a crucial role in scientific progress. They represent some of the world’s leading scientific minds and empower researchers to do their best work.

Success in science requires building top performing teams to push the boundaries of what is known—and this means attracting and nurturing scientific talent. In today’s political climate of possible scientific funding cuts and immigration policy uncertainty, headlines forecast a grim effect on scientific research. As such, my ResearchGate colleagues and I wanted to understand what researchers really need from the academic job market, in order to help institutions navigate today’s geopolitical crossroads and continue building teams that can accelerate scientific progress.

To figure this out, we surveyed 10,000 researchers at all career levels from around the world about their academic job market needs in what we believe to be the largest study of its kind.

Scientists are open to relocating internationally

Credit: ResearchGate

For today’s researchers, geographic boundaries are increasingly dissolving. To solve scientific problems, researchers worldwide cooperate internationally every single day. It should come as no surprise, then, that scientists are highly open to international relocation for the right research opportunity: in our survey, 70 percent of researchers reported they are open to working abroad.

This suggests that the current climate of political insecurity does not intimidate scientists, who are willing to move to pursue their research work.

North America ranked as the most popular destination for international relocation, a testament to its position at the forefront of scientific discovery, despite the confusion surrounding governmental funding for the sciences and unclear immigration policy. The strong representation of immigrants among U.S. Nobel Prize–winners further emphasizes that scientific research knows no boundaries.

Despite the complexity of the visa application process in the U.S., assembling the right paperwork and getting it approved is not a deterrent for those looking to relocate. According to our study, relocation support and ease of getting a visa are among the least important deciding factors when considering an academic career opportunity, demonstrating that challenges in obtaining legal permissions won’t deter scientists seeking to conduct research abroad.

Researchers want to work on relevant and meaningful projects

Credit: ResearchGate

Behind a researcher’s career choice is a deep passion for their unique field of study. The single most significant factor when deciding where to apply is the “opportunity to work in an area of particular interest to me.” Quite simply, scientists want to ensure they can continue pursuing the research that most interests them.

Researchers also wish to innovate, and for their work to have an impact. Our study shows that the second and third most important job criteria are an “opportunity to develop or contribute to new methods and techniques” and the “likelihood of research making an impact in the real world.”

To respond to these priorities among scientific jobseekers, academic institutions should develop an employer brand that appeals to passionate, skilled scientists. These scientists need their institutions to showcase the innovative and exciting research they’re conducting, and also share faculty stories that highlight the positive results of their work.

Salary and quality of life still matter

Credit: ResearchGate

While it is clear that when applying for new academic research jobs, scientists primarily consider the nature of the work they might be doing, they still care about salary and quality of life. Consider that over 32 percent of those surveyed have a child to care for, while nearly 60 percent are married or in a long-term partnership.

When asked about employment factors, salary (21 percent) and location (18 percent) were mentioned as key considerations, followed by employment benefits and family-friendly policies, like parental leave and day-care options.

Certainly, researchers want to have a positive impact on the world and cooperate internationally. At the same time, they also value academic employers that can provide a satisfactory salary, support work-life balance and achieve a good quality of life.

Hire for unique skills and experience while casting a global net

High-potential researchers want to do meaningful, rewarding work that is focused on the topics and research they’re most passionate about. And, contrary to what the current political climate might suggest, they’re not afraid to move internationally to find new career opportunities.

This means universities do not need to limit their candidate search to their own regions. Academic institutions can look for candidates based on their experience, skills and talent, no matter where they’re from, and appeal to them by promoting an institution’s impactful research projects and welcoming working environments.

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