yep, you read that right. She turned it down.
For those of you who don't know A DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) is a hugely competitive research grant given by the australian research council (ARC). You have to be within 5 years of your PhD to be eligible, and here's the cracker, only 14% get funded.
14% - that's really crap odds. If you don't get one the first time you try, you can only try again one more time. 2 shots at 14% - bloody hell.
But, you gotta be in it to win it - a lot of blood sweat and tears go into these applications, and for many early career researchers, it's the first grant application they've ever done, which makes it all the more harder.
These things are the holy grail in Australia if you're within the 5yr PhD mark. Get one of these and you quite possibly have your foot in the door for an academic career.
So err why did shy turn it down? At first I was kind of shocked when I read this article, and a bit offended actually. I put a phenomenal amount of effort into writing my DECRA application, there was absolutely no way in hell I was going to turn the offer down. And it's not like her allotted funding will be passed down to the next person on the list, the money simply goes back to the ARC.
So out of the 200 DECRAS funded each year, there's already at least 1 that won't be completed. I'm sure there's a lot of applicants who only just missed out that would have loved to receive Dr. Edwards’ funding instead, and would have clutched on to it for dear life.
Though, as I said before, it only POSSIBLY gives you a foot in the door for an academic career Australia. In the eyes of Dr. Edwards’, Possibly was not good enough. Even though she no doubt put as much effort into her application as anyone else, she does not see a future in academic science in Australia.
It is appalling that this is what it has come to. The best and brightest are leaving us.
But as much as I hate to admit it, I completely agree with Dr. Edwards.
The science and research landscape in Australia has changed.
CSIRO's funding has been slashed. The future of university fees are uncertain. The future of some ARC fellowship programs are uncertain. We did not have a science minister for the first part of the Abbott government (and I'm not sure how useful the current one will be). Permanent academic positions are as rare as hen's teeth (that's a direct quote from a senior colleague of mine). And, in the case of my field, climate science, there is even less interest at the federal government scale. We already word grants and other formal documents such that "climate change" and "global warming" do not appear, so we don't rock the boat.
Yes DECRAS are highly prestigious and extremely impressive, but if there are no jobs here in the long term, then what good are they? This is likely what underpinned Dr. Edwards’ decision. And I can see her rationale.
In fact, I know three colleagues from my department alone who moved overseas to either permanent roles or a completely new career before their DECRAS had finished. Because there are not options here.
This is something that's been playing a lot on my mind lately. Ive got 2, maybe 3 years at best in my current role as a DECRA fellow. I'll only get the extra year if I show my department proof that I've gone for other grants, which I should probably start thinking about now. If I'm lucky enough to get another grant then that's just another 3 year cycle. I've got buckley's chance of getting a permanent position in Australia, let alone at my home institution, not because I'm not competitive, but simply because there are NO JOBS.
In the very unlikely yet fortunate case of a permanent position becoming available, it wouldn't shield me from the perpetuous funding cycle either - all permanent positions are dependant on your ability to bring in funds. But at least I could get rid of that ever-present back-of-the-mind thought that I have no idea where I'll be in 4 years (which actually really scares me).
I can see how even this option is completely unappealing to Dr. Edwards, and other people in our position. If I am totally honest, it's unappealing to me too. Although I'm still considered early career, I'm not exactly 20 anymore. Job security, a stable income and a healthy work-life balance are becoming more important the older I get.
A couple of short term contracts (post-docs) are completely acceptable and necessary to gain experience in the very early years of an academic career. But in order to good research, proper research in the long term that is world class they are not sustainable. Simple as that.
What are the other options for Australia's early career researchers?
1) move overseas or 2) find another career.
For me, if at the end of my DECRA things are looking pretty bleak, my choice will be another career (note if my students are reading this - this is not going to happen any time soon). I love my job, but at some point enough will have to be enough. Dr. Edwards chose to stay overseas. We all have our limits.
What are the options for Australia to stop this happening?
Gosh, I can't help but be brutally honest. Australia, pull your finger out. Science and research underpins our society. Fact.
from polymer banknotes, aeroguard and wifi (which are all products of CSIRO) to solar panels, black box flight recorders, ultrasounds and the HPV vaccine - these are all things that Australian, (yes that's right Australian) science has pioneered. No money in science, and these developments stop coming. Worse still, the brightest move overseas to make their discoveries there.
So we're being shot in the foot, twice.
We need to keep our youngest and brightest here. We need to change the science and research landscape again, because the grass is definitely greener on the other side. We need to make it more attractive to stay, well beyond a 3-year fellowship which is almost impossible to get anyway. This is not just to keep the scientists happy - the Australian of the future will undoubtedly benefit from this too.