Published: 2014-02-17 14:17 | Updated: 2014-02-24 09:45

The career ladder for researchers a welcomed initiative

The decision to establish a career ladder for young researchers at Karolinska Institutet has been welcomed by the Junior Faculty network, but they would have preferred to have seen an increase in the number of positions.

Immediately before the turn of the year, the Board of Research decided to establish a career ladder for young researchers.

“At KI there is a lack of positions at the intermediate level and here we need to invest heavily. Our career ladder will play a key role,” says Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Dean of Research.

The question is vital to KI which has declared that the university must focus on both attracting, and managing to keep young and successful researchers.

The new initiative means the Board is announcing funding for positions at three different levels that are advertised both internally within KI and in the international press, such as in Nature Jobs och Science. Applicants are then competitively assessed and the most qualified candidates will be offered the funds to create positions.

Junior Faculty, a network of researchers at KI with doctorate degrees but not yet with permanent employment, welcomes the initiative and believes that it is an essential initial step forwards.

A survey of members showed that the majority were unsure of what career steps there were.

“In recent years, we have been discussing a career ladder with KI's leadership and these calls for proposals clarify the career paths at KI. The possibility of annual calls for proposals and the extensive review process is also positive, but the number of positions needs to increase,” says Gonçalo Castelo-Branco, president of the Junior Faculty.

The Junior Faculty argues that there is a risk that KI will fail to attract top researchers if the career system does not offer long-term career stability and good financial support.

“The career ladder mainly covers salary costs and lacks adequate financial support for the implementation of research programmes. Additionally, there is no possibility of continuing directly from research assistant to researcher following stringent evaluation,” says Gonçalo Castelo-Branco.

At the workshop on career pathways that was organised in March 2013, the tenure track system was a recurring theme. No evaluation, nor automatic transitions between the different levels, are included in the new career ladder. Only the senior research positions transfer to a permanent position after five years.

“We believe it is important that to apply for different levels in a competitive environment, but also that those who have a senior research position should have permanent employment at their department. Many of our young researchers in particular have argued for the newly proposed model. We have considered the arguments for a purely tenure-track system, but opted not to take that route. We also noted a trend, especially in the US, that there has been a move away from the system,” says Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren.

Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren hopes that the career ladder will be able to attract young researchers at KI to feel that it is possible to pursue careers in research and that it will be possible to tie project funds to the positions in the future.

“We have great hopes that departments and other strategic research programmes in the long term also add positions to the programme to ensure it grows larger than it is now initially,” says Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren.

The advertisements for the first calls for proposals were published on February 17. The application deadline is March 17. Decisions about the positions to be offered will be taken in the autumn.

The career ladder

From 2015, the Board will be funding three types of position:

  • Research Associate – SEK 1 million per year for four years, up to 10 positions.
  • Research Associate extension (requires that applicants hold a research Associate position) – SEK 1 million per year for two years, up to 10 positions.
  • Senior Researcher – SEK 1.2 million per year for five years, up to 6 positions, turning into permanent employment at the home department.