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Young scientists’ autonomy rises up EU agenda

A plea from a group of early-career researchers for the EU to “radically reorganise funding streams to trust and empower young researchers” has been supported by research commissioner Carlos Moedas.

The Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers says that the barriers to entering the research system are too high for early-career researchers. It calls for funding programmes that would give even pre-doctoral students the chance to compete for EU money.

The declaration was published on 19 July, to coincide with its discussion at an informal meeting of EU research ministers in Bratislava. Early-career researchers had been invited to develop the declaration by the Slovak presidency of the EU and the European Commission.

Lynn Kamerlin—a computational biochemist at Uppsala University in Sweden and vice-chairwoman of the Young Academy of Europe—said that being involved in developing the declaration helped her understand how poorly early-career researchers are served by the present system. “There is funding for the best postdocs, but there’s nothing pre-doctoral,” she said. “Think of the young people in Silicon Valley: many of them don’t have PhDs. We need to harness our equivalent talent in Europe.”

The declaration also calls for the development of an EU-wide diversity charter, with which institutions would have to comply to be eligible for EU funding, and more flexible working practices to improve work-life balance.

Clara Luján—a telecommunications engineer at the Andalusian Association for Research and Industrial Cooperation and chairwoman of Young European Associated Researchers—acknowledged that the problems raised in the declaration were not new. However, previous attempts to solve them had failed because early-career researchers weren’t involved, she said.

This new approach received significant buy-in from both the Commission and national ministers, said Luján. “They all agreed that Europe needs more researchers and that young researchers are the future of research, so they have to pay attention to their needs,” she said.

At the launch, Moedas said that the Commission needed to do “much more” to support early-career researchers, and said that he would work with the education commissioner Tibor Navracsics on the issue.

Kamerlin said that the group of young researchers was also discussing how to take the declaration forward. “The most important thing is that this becomes a living document—not just a one-off declaration but something that’s really used.”

This article also appeared in Research Europe