Professionals Australia report: Why the best and brightest researchers are expected to leave the medical research sector

Only 21% of medical researchers are engaged as full time employees in Australia, according to the Best And Brightest Advancing Medical Research study conducted by Professionals Australia. Since only 1 in 5 researchers have a full time job in a medical research institute, this leads to more and more researchers leaving their field to find a secure job that doesn’t involve struggle to compete with other researchers for funding.

The report reveals that the Medical Research Institute (MRI) sector is currently characterised by complexity in funding arrangements, ongoing uncertainty for the researchers who work in the sector and a range of threats to the sustainability of the workforce. It highlighted that the medical research sector is so uncertain that as researchers get older, they may have to choose between leaving to find a stable job for the sake of family etc. or staying in the MRI sector and accepting a life of uncertainty.

“Medical Research Institutes can’t offer employment security because they are stuck in a funding merry-go-round. That’s a handbrake on innovation because of insecure employment, and it’s little wonder many researchers are considering their future,” Chris Walton, Professionals Australia CEO said.

“The Government must act now to end the funding uncertainty and provide recurrent funding for Medical Research Institutes so they can attract and retain the best. It’s ridiculous that we give recurrent funding to hospitals which treat disease, yet we won’t properly fund research to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart conditions.

“The creation of the MRFF was a real step forward, but we now need to see progress to full funding in the next budget. The inefficiency and uncertainty with the current funding system needs urgent reform to support real innovation in medical research. Without this reform, we risk wasting our investment in these brilliant scientists and more importantly risk missing the next important medical breakthrough,” said Mr Walton.

While 67.6% respondents in the Best and Brightest Survey said they were satisfied in their current role, they also very clearly linked funding arrangements to lack of work/life balance for researchers working in the MRI sector. Again, the pressure to work more is probably driven by the need to compete for funding.

Respondents also reported that some employment practices disadvantaged women in the sector. Female respondents said that their career advancement are severely impacted by recruitment practices, part-time work arrangements, career responsibilities, career breaks, a culture of long hours, and under-representation of females in the sector.

researchers to leave due to job insecurity

Following are some of the key findings of the report:

  • 93.1% said having a long-term strategy for research infrastructure would make the sector more successful
  • 55.0% expected to leave the sector within five years
  • 93.3% said the current funding system results in the sector effectively wasting significant investment in research workforce skills and development
  • 74.4% said MRIs should remain independent, working collaboratively with universities and hospitals rather than being part of a university/hospital organisational structure
  • 79.7% said they had considered leaving the MRI sector due to a lack of job security
  • 71.3% said the MRI sector would benefit from the improvement of relevant business and management capabilities of scientists promoted into management and leadership roles
  • 39.0% said long working hours had impacted staff morale in their workplace over the last 12 months
  • 56.4% said that long working hours had contributed to greater fatigue in their workplace over the last 12 months
  • 43.4% agreed that women who have taken a career break are sidelined for promotion.
  • 16.2% said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied in their current job

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