Employment insecurity and a lack of funding are causing considerable anxiety among Australian health and medical researchers, according to an article in the latest issue of Medical Journal of Australia.
In August 2006, Associate Professor Maria Kavallaris from the Australian Society for Medical Research and her co-authors surveyed nearly 400 researchers to see how various views impacted on retaining a skilled medical research workforce in Australia.
Assoc Prof Kavallaris warned that any significant loss of Australia's highly-trained HMR workforce represented a potential erosion of its intellectual capacity and future preparedness.
"We wanted to gauge researchers' views on career opportunities, funding opportunities, salary and the quality of the working environment," she said.
Australian health and medical research (HMR) ranks highly in the international research community - with Australian publications in the top one per cent of most-cited articles.
Assoc Prof Kavallaris said these impressive outcomes are achieved despite Australia spending significantly less in terms of gross domestic expenditure on health research and development that other countries such as the UK and the US.
"A key factor in Australia's scientific advances and achievements is its well-trained, broadly-skilled workforce so we need to understand the factors that influence brain drain and gain if we are to ensure we don't lose more researchers to overseas projects.
"To maintain Australia's competitive edge, it will be necessary to provide a career path that captures, nurtures, and retains talented minds and provides fertile career opportunities," she said.
Factors influencing decisions about whether to leave MHR included shortage of funding (91%), lack of career development (78%) and poor financial rewards (72%).
Other key findings of the study included:
- 6% of respondents had left active research in the past five years;
- 73% had considered leaving;
- 57% were directly supported by grants or fellowships;
- 16% were not reliant on grants for their continuing employment;
- 62% believed funding had increased in the past five years yet only 30% perceived an increase in employment opportunities in HMR; and
- Twice as many men as women help post-graduate qualifications and earned $100,000 a year or more.