Morale of Aust scientists falling fast


Job losses, mounting workloads and fatigue are eroding the morale of Australia’s science workforce.

Research conducted by Science & Technology Australia and Professional Scientists Australia reveals a steep drop in morale amid growing exhaustion, mounting workloads and job insecurity from short-term contracts.

The survey of 1275 professional scientists also points to the toll of working during the COVID-19 pandemic and high stakes lottery of careers relying on competitive grants.

Some 62.5 per cent of respondents said morale fell in their workplace in the past year, up from 46 per cent in 2020.

Seven-in-10 said fatigue had risen (up from 54.6 per cent) and one-in-four revealed they were on fixed-term contracts, with an average length of just 18 months.

Almost 40 per cent of the scientists interviewed said they hadn’t had a pay increase in 12 months amid freezes at many universities due to the pandemic.

Female scientists earned just 82.8 per cent of male scientists’ salaries.

One-in-five respondents said they planned on leaving the profession entirely in coming years.

The researchers found scientists are working an average of 7.5 hours overtime a week but 58.9 per cent of them receive no extra pay or compensation.

“There’s a huge risk many more … brilliant scientists will hit breaking point and just walk away if we don’t fix this broken system of insecure work,” said Science & Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert.

STA president Jeremy Brownlie said the “pincers of the pandemic and precarious work” were taking a brutal toll.

“Australia’s scientists have prevented a vast number of deaths in this pandemic – yet our country isn’t supporting them nearly well enough in return,” he said.

“We’re seeing rising levels of fatigue, a bleak drop in morale and widespread job insecurity with job losses at universities and precarious short-term contracts.”

Modelling by Universities Australia estimates 17,300 jobs overall were lost at universities in 2020.

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