Juan Manuel Vazquez thinks he knows where his career will take him after he completes his PhD in genetics at the University of Chicago in Illinois in May. But the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to cancel its plans. Vazquez has accepted a postdoctoral position in the Peter Sudmant lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and is getting ready to start in July. But when he sent Sudmant an e-mail in April, he received a surprising response. “He told me that there was a recruitment freeze, so we have to see if we really can get me hired.”
Vazquez and Sudmant petitioned the university for an exception, arguing that the position had been offered and accepted. After three weeks of waiting and worry, Vazquez learned that the petition had succeeded and that he could start postdoc according to plan. “I feel very lucky, but my eyes are wide open,” he said. “The longer this pandemic lasts, the more institutions will have to pay for this problem.”
Within months, the COVID-19 pandemic had made the academic job market almost destroyed in many parts of the world, said John Holmwood, a sociologist at the University of Nottingham, England, and one of the founders of the Campaign for State Universities. He said that the situation was dire in countries where institutions depend on tuition to survive, such as the United States and Britain. The projected decline in UK enrollment – up to 16% for domestic students and 47% for international students, according to some estimates – has forced these institutions to cut spending, making a large number of recruitment decisions doubtful. “In a funding crisis, you have to take savings where you can get it,” Holmwood said. “Early career academics are people who take a hit. This is hell for those who graduate soon. “
Hiring freezing is a new normal in the United States. Karen Kelsky, an academic career trainer and former permanent teaching staff member based in Eugene, Oregon, compiled a list of universities and university systems that have imposed a slowdown in recruitment or direct suspension. The list, built in part by submissions and tips from academics and posted on its website The Professor Is In, including more than 400 institutions in mid-May, including large research entities such as Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Stanford University in California, as well as the entire University of California system. Berkeley, for example, announced “a recruitment freeze on all campuses” on April 1. The follow-up announcement the following day added that “no new positions can be posted and no offers can be made for existing positions or positions that are currently posted without exception approved by the Finance Committee”.
“This is a disaster,” Kelsky said. As he explained, junior researchers hoping to find job on the tenure pathway were now thinking about plan B, and new graduates were struggling to find a career path. “New PhDs who have not yet started their first postdoc are the most threatened,” he said.
In Britain, Oxford University announced the “recruitment freeze” on April 21, an early sign of trouble. Although enrollments and admissions at many universities have been stable so far, UK Universities, representing 137 UK institutions, project that the university sector as a whole will drop by almost £ 800 million (US $ 990 million) in fiscal 2019-20 as a result of related impacts COVID, such as loss of accommodation fees, canceled conferences and course fees that are transferred online. Shortages for the next fiscal year are expected to be “extreme”, mainly due to projected losses of nearly £ 7 billion in fees from international students.
Many universities in the UK have not officially recognized the slowdown or halt in recruitment, but the freeze may have spread throughout the country, Holmwood said. He suspects that all institutions in the UK have suspended recruitment to some degree, even if they say otherwise. Institutions, he said, were reluctant to show signs of distress which could further reduce student registration. He has observed that many universities seem to be waiting for students to confirm registration before announcing any kind of social grouping plan for the next academic year. “You have a great poker game going on,” he said. “Universities may not want to admit that they are in trouble.”
De facto freezing can appear in subtle ways, even if it is not officially announced. Holmwood was on a committee that would recruit a candidate at the end of March, during the first week of the British lockdown. The university said that the committee could fill new positions, but had to be balanced by others who were made redundant. “Actually, we can appoint someone, but we will make one of our colleagues vulnerable,” he said. The committee decided not to hire candidates.
Holmwood noted that the recruitment freeze related to COVID had not yet gripped universities in the European Union, where most researchers were supported by funding from governments or external institutions. “There is no point that universities in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden or elsewhere are in a financial crisis,” he said.
The European Youth Academy, a junior research association, carefully reinforces this view. “It’s still too early to say what the impact of the pandemic will be on university budgets and recruits, but of course this must be monitored closely,” he said. Natural. “We also emphasize that because basic research is very important to prepare for future crises, the budget of both the European Horizon and the European Research Council budget must be protected.”
However, several European Union universities pay land tenure and tenure lines directly, and these positions can be influenced by the moratorium recruitment.
Tina Persson, a science career coach based in Stockholm, said that she saw no signs of concern in the academic world in her country. “People are still applying for postdoc and careers at universities,” he said. “As long as you can get funds, they will support you.” At least one media outlet has reported that the number of applications to Swedish institutions from international students has increased by 12% compared to the same period in 2019.
So far, Sweden not yet enforced This type of lock sweeping is seen in several countries, but Persson says that citizens and institutions still take this pandemic very seriously. For their part, the university frantically worked to make adjustments. “They have to change all their routines,” he said. “They are already very busy.”
The Max Planck Society of Germany, which has institutes throughout Europe as well as in the United States and South Korea, continues to advertise vacancies for early career researchers, including postdoc, and technicians. “The Max Planck Society has no reason to reduce doctoral or doctoral recruitment at our institution,” said spokeswoman Christina Beck. If researchers need to delay their work for several months due to a pandemic, the community will extend their contract. Beck added that the Pact for Research and Innovation, a funding plan that was updated by the German government last year, should keep the budget at the Max Planck Society and other German research organizations intact for the next decade.
In areas where employing freezing is a new fact of life, early career scientists with academic ambitions must proceed with extreme caution, Holmwood said. “If you head to England as a newly tenured faculty member, I will seek assurance that your position has been deemed as ‘business critical,'” a label indicating it will not be cut, he said. If the guarantee cannot be made, he said, the position may not be worth the risk. “In this case, I will not give up the current post to come to university.”
Although his postdoc position is safe for now, Vazquez said he did not take any future in the academic world for granted. “Even as a student, I am aware that a career in academia will be an uphill battle,” he said. To be safe, he always remains aware of the opportunities that exist in the industry. “I keep my feet on both doors. When I was doing my postdoc search, I updated my CV in case I had to switch gears and look for work in the industry. “
Even with a backup plan, the prospect of a bleak job in academia can be painful. For Vazquez, who is from Puerto Rico, potential setbacks are more than personal. He rarely saw Hispanics in life science faculty positions during his undergraduate and graduate education. “I feel we have just begun to encourage various institutions to increase diversity,” he said. He wanted to be part of the trend, but now the whole movement is on hold. “That’s what kills me the most about the recruitment freeze,” he said.
Difficult times are not likely to last forever. “My hope is that there will be a one or two year hit for academics in their early careers,” Holmwood said. He suspected that some senior faculty members might decide to retire or move, opening up space for junior members. “I think the demographic structure of the university will be rebalanced.”
Kelsky noted that many universities have never fully recovered from the recession that began in late 2007 and lasted until mid-2009, and he hoped the current crisis was far more destructive and long-lasting. “The university will survive, and there will still be a need for professors,” he said. “But even in the best case scenario, the loss will be felt for a long time.”
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