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Do Emerging Scientists Have a Future in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (Inc.)
P.O. Box 1874
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

16 April 2012

Do Emerging Scientists Have a Future in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) is hosting
a one-day conference today, Monday 16 April, to address the question “Do emerging scientists have a future in New Zealand?”. More details are at http://www.scientists.org.nz/event/2012/2012-nzas-conference.

NZAS President, Professor Shaun Hendy, said in his opening address: “A fiscally neutral response to the issues faced by emerging scientists cannot be credible. According to the OECD, New Zealand’s R&D spending per researcher lies between that of Poland and the Slovak Republic. We desperately need to lift the resources available to our scientists, particularly those in the private sector. New Zealand must take advantage of our highly skilled young people by creating new high technology businesses and redoubling our R&D efforts in existing firms.” Both the Honourable David Carter, Minister for Primary Industries and Minister of Local Government, and David Shearer, Leader of the Labour Party and that party’s Spokesperson for Science and Innovation, referred to the open letter sent to the government last year to protest the cutting of postdoctoral research fellowships.

David Carter, speaking on behalf of the Honourable Steven Joyce, spoke about the value that the government places on the economic value of innovation: “We need to make sure the funding system does not inadvertently discourage the inclusion of postdoctoral fellows." He also stated that there were too many components of the new superministry for the word “science” to be part of the ministry name, given the government's focus on innovation. “Science is an important part of innovation, from dairy to digital”.

David Shearer also acknowledged the importance of fellowships to career pathways for emerging scientists. “In 2010 the government made the decision to cut the FRST postdoctoral fellowships. It has gutted our ability to move on from the doctorate into advanced research. If you want to farewell our best and brightest at the airport, it's probably the best way to do that.”

Dr Melanie Massaro, author of the open letter, criticised the funding systems that reward universities for training PhDs but discourage the employment of Postdocs. After outlining the struggle to cross the postdoctoral void to full employment, Dr Massaro compared postdoctoral fellowships to helicopters that carry PhD researchers over the void, to a position where they are able to compete with the overseas trained scientists arriving on the international jumbo jet. “We need more helicopters and we need them urgently”.

The one-day conference is being held at Rutherford House in Wellington. New Zealand Association of Scientists (www.scientists.org.nz) is a nationwide association of practising research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and independent researchers.

ENDS

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