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Research organisations need to rethink mobility, says ESF

Research organisations and funders need to rethink the definition of mobility to improve the flexibility of research careers and the quality of evaluation, according to a science policy briefing by the European Science Foundation.

Mobility can encompass movements between countries, but also between different scientific fields, and between industry and academia, the ESF has said. It is important that research organisations reflect the diversity present in researchers’ careers in their policies, and researchers should be evaluated with this career flexibility in mind, the briefing recommends.

The briefing document, New Concepts of Researcher Mobility- a comprehensive approach including combined/part-time positions, describes different forms of mobility, emphasising that the term is no longer limited to describing geographical mobility.

In addition to traditional concerns about physical mobility, such as ensuring researchers can easily obtain work permits and social benefits in other countries, researchers also need to be supported when trying to switch fields, or enter industry, the briefing states.

For instance, movement of researchers between academia industry should be able to happen smoothly in both directions, the ESF says. Facilitating this type mobility would give researchers more flexible careers options and help to increase cooperation between public and private research activities.

Another concern the briefing raises is that while funders encourage interdisciplinary work, research assessment is often carried out within the framework of traditional disciplines. Researchers doing interdisciplinary work also encounter more obstacles, such as a lack of recognition for more diverse careers and difficulties with publishing papers that don’t fall into mainstream disciplines.

The authors suggest that non-academic achievements, such as project, people or budget management, should be recognised during peer review. Matching the measurement of achievements to the time someone has spent in research would provide encouragement to researchers who engage in a wider range of activities or part-time work, they say. 

The authors conclude, however, that mobility “should never be seen as an end in itself but rather should focus on the value of effects derived from different types of mobility”.

The briefing was written by Hans Borchgrevink of the Norwegian research council and Beate Scholz, a consultant from Germany. Additional contributions were made by the representatives from the Flemish research foundation, the European University Association, the Slovak Research and Development Agency, and the European Science Foundation.