Mike Dexter, director of the research charity the Wellcome Trust, has added his voice to the campaign for a coherent solution to the problem of fixed-term contracts (see also last week's story ). In an interview in the journal Odyssey, Dexter said, "My worry at the moment is that about three-quarters of the young academics who are active bench researchers are on fixed-term contracts. This encourages short-termism, conservatism ... and interferes with the freedom of young researchers." He goes on to say that "we've got to do something about that."
Most young scientists will welcome Dexter's contribution to the ongoing debate on contract research staff (CRS); it is, however, only words. What is the Wellcome Trust, who spends around £250 million annually on research, actually doing for CRS? "A lot more than people think we do," claims Wellcome Trust project manager Patricia Chisholm. She points out that although the Trust provides a researcher's funding, the university is that person's employer. "What is important," she says, "is the amount of leverage we are trying to place on government and universities to improve the short-termism surrounding contract researchers." This includes "actively entering into dialogue with universities about when are they going to provide permanent positions for Wellcome-funded fellows."
However, Chisholm concedes that, as an independent research charity, there is a limit to what the Trust can do. "Ultimately the Trust cannot be responsible for the academic careers of everybody at a British university. It is the government's responsibility to look after the bulk of the people and their permanence and security."
Next Wave readers further interested in what Mike Dexter had to say on the situation of young scientists can read his full comments here.