by Abbie Fearon
I’ve been attending a lot of mentoring and career coaching sessions recently. I’m trying to make sure I’m as prepared as possible for a career in science. But one of the things I wasn’t prepared for was the common consensus among researchers at these sessions when it comes to one point in particular: fellowships in the UK. Although these scientists wanted to apply to UK institutions, for many they are now off the table.
I feel it falls to me to try to apologise for the whole Brexit situation
I’m a postdoc in Switzerland and so it’s not uncommon for me to be the only British person in the room at these events. Because of this, I feel it falls to me to try to apologise for the whole Brexit situation. It’s possible that I feel this way because I am British and therefore feel the need to apologise all the time, but it’s also possible that these excellent scientists really do deserve an apology, and an explanation.
The conversations often follow the same path: the fellowship adverts do not say anything about the requirements of the nationality of the people applying and that, for the next few years at least, there will be a transition period and so anyone with an EU passport will still be able to go to the UK easily. I’m sure you know how the rest of this argument and the general “it’ll all be fine” conversation goes. But quite honestly, I can’t help but worry.
We as scientists are research and data driven, but in reality, there are a range of factors to consider which impact the decisions we make when deciding where to work.
The UK has some of the best academic institutions in the world. Whilst they still have a way to go to achieve equality in a variety of important aspects, the range of nationalities of employees is huge. This sharing of knowledge across borders is incredibly important to the advancement of science and something that we should all be incredibly proud of.
But this could well change. We as scientists are research and data driven, but in reality, there are a range of factors to consider which impact the decisions we make when deciding where to work. The life of an academic scientist is uncertain enough as it is, what with contracts which last only a few years and the continuation of your research hanging on the success of a grant application. Why would we want to add another layer of complexity to the mix by choosing to set up our own lab in a country with such political uncertainty too?
I’m British and so this situation doesn’t affect me in the same way as it does my international colleagues, but still I find the situation unsettling. I worry about the talent we’re losing, about those working in the UK who feel unwelcome, and about how the situation will affect British researchers whose collaborations may become more difficult once the UK is outside the EU.
I know it might all turn out to be ok in the end. I’m sure where some opportunities are lost, others will be gained. But this concern I feel is because I know the talent we’ve lost already.
Share your experiences with us
Is the prospect of Brexit affecting your research or funding, for good or bad? Please get in touch, we’re keen to hear the experiences of more researchers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
Abbie Fearon received her PhD in tumour biology in 2015 from Barts Cancer Institute London, which focused on the dissection of drug resistance mechanisms in endometrial and breast cancer. She then moved to Switzerland to take up her role as a postdoctoral research scientist at the ETH Zürich, where she remains today. Here, she works on delineating the mechanisms involved in liver repair and regeneration. She is now focused on combining her research career with scientific writing for the general public.