Third of researchers considering leaving sector in three years – Wellcome Trust

A survey by the Wellcome Trust suggests an ‘unkind and aggressive’ research culture could drive people out of the profession

Over a third of researchers are considering leaving the sector in three years, a new survey suggests.

The survey of over 4,000 researchers by the Wellcome Trust has revealed that 36% are considering leaving the sector in the next three years. Nearly two-thirds have witnessed bullying and harassment and nearly eight in 10 say high levels of competition have created “unkind and aggressive” working conditions.

As a result, only 38% say there is longevity in a research career and less than a third feel secure pursuing a career in the sector.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Wellcome’s head of UK and EU policy, Beth Thompson, said many researchers face “stark pressures” because of “hyper-competition for funding and recognition in the system”.

As a funder, we understand that our own approach has played a role. We’re committed to changing this, to foster a creative, supportive, and inclusive research environment
– Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust

According to the survey, 65% of researchers think current research culture is unsustainable long-term.

Just over half of researchers (53%) have sought, or have wanted to seek, professional help for depression or anxiety, the survey suggests. More than four in 10 have experienced bullying or harassment and more than six in 10 have witnessed it in their workplace.

Read more: Technicians: Report highlights diversity challenges in workforce

Despite the survey’s other negative findings, 84% of respondents still say they are proud to work in the research community.

But the Wellcome Trust’s findings suggest many in the sector are not happy with current metrics and management. Only 14% of researchers think current metrics have had a positive impact on research culture and 75% say creativity is currently being stifled as a result. Less than half (49%) had received a formal appraisal in the last year and only 55% had received any kind of feedback at all on their performance.

Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome, said: “These results paint a shocking portrait of the research environment – and one we must all help change.

“The pressures of working in research must be recognised and acted upon by all, from funders, to leaders of research and to heads of universities and institutions.

“As a funder, we understand that our own approach has played a role. We’re committed to changing this, to foster a creative, supportive, and inclusive research environment.”

Among other findings, the survey, published on 15 January, revealed:

  • 45% of researchers that had left the sector said they couldn’t find another job
  • Women are more likely to be victims of harassment (49%) than men (34%)
  • Only 37% of respondents say they would feel comfortable speaking up about bullying or harassment, with four in ten fearful it would damage their career
  • Two-thirds have worked more than a 50 hours a week and 48% say they felt pressure to work long hours
  • 49% are struggling to deal with work-related stress

The researchers polled by Wellcome work in the UK and abroad across universities and the private sector.

Read more: Concordat on researchers’ employment rights divides opinion


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