Results from the Australian postdoctoral survey

Maggie Hardy
Maggie Hardy. Photo: Maggie Hardy

The Australian Postdoctoral Reference Survey is a biennial initiative of the EMCR Forum designed to provide an overview of the environment for early- and mid-career researchers. The study adheres to the guidelines of the ethical review process of the University of Queensland and the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. Here we provide a brief summary of the results of the survey, which (hopefully) you participated in.

The main concern was that, despite a number of researchers taking postdoctoral positions in order to develop a lifelong career in research, the majority do not think such a career will be possible, largely due to inadequate job security (such as short-term contracts) or a lack of funding. This is perhaps not a surprise for many EMCRs given the current environment.

The survey was accessible online, from late 2014 to mid 2015, and 284 EMCRs in Australia responded. More women than men participated (38 per cent men and 62 per cent women). The majority of respondents were in their early 30s (40 per cent were aged 31–35), followed by late 20s and late 30s (22 per cent each). The bulk were early career (2–5 years post-PhD, 50 per cent; 6–10 years post-PhD, 29 per cent). Approximately equal numbers of respondents had worked as a postdoctoral researcher for two to three, three to five, or six to 10 years (26 per cent), and most had a current contract of one year or less in duration (40 per cent). The majority of respondents were from the life sciences (61 per cent), with approximately equal numbers from physical sciences and engineering and health sciences (17 per cent each).

Over half of the respondents stated that the primary reason for starting a postdoctoral position was as a stepping stone to a full-time research career (52 per cent). Despite 54 per cent saying they would like to make research their lifetime career, 46 per cent think that is unlikely or very unlikely. About equal proportions think the main reason they would leave a career in research is due to inadequate job security or a lack of funding (37 per cent each). Nearly all respondents reported a full-time contract work week of 36–38 hours (89 per cent), but three-quarters (75 per cent) report working in excess of 41–45 hours per week—including 20 per cent who report working more than 50 hours.

The survey highlights the need for consistent monitoring of working conditions, reflection on the quality and quantity of training and professional development opportunities, and the creation of stable funding sources to support the future leaders of Australia’s research community. The results of the survey helped to inform our submission to the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) consultation on Australia's research training system.

We will be conducting the survey again in 18 months’ time. If there are any issues that you would like included in the survey, please contact us at

Dr Maggie Hardy
EMCR Forum Executive
Australian Academy of Science

EMCR Pathways Issue 5 October 2015

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