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The Science Career Marathon

Individual Science Marathon

At the institutional level change is a marathon, not a sprint, and at the individual level the scientific career is also a marathon. Like a marathon mapping and planning a scientific career demands preparation, strategy and tactics, and reflection and review.

From the project survey results Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage Report overall more men than women appear to have planned career changes, whereas more women had responded to lack of opportunities in their field, but the pattern of responses from the majority of respondents indicates a lack of prospects in a research career (64%) rather than a lack of continuing interest in research (23%), indicative that the research workforce is losing scientists who would prefer to remain in research roles. This prompts the important question of how best to plan a research career in a challenging environment.

The Metaphor of the Marathon

The project survey data indicated that only just over half the respondents, 57% of women and 53% of men, regarded their career path as ‘traditional’ ie undergraduate study, followed by post graduate study, doctorate and post doc research, with 37% of men and 26% of women indicating their career path was non-traditional ie undergraduate and postgraduate/PhD study combined with work in other sectors. A further 16% of women and 10% of men had had time out of the research workforce. Our conclusion is that, despite the pervasive traditional career paradigm Australia's future research workforce: supply, demand and influence factors | Research Skills for an Innovative Future there are many ways a science research career can be designed to achieve success and/or satisfaction.

The research, particularly the focus group discussions indicated that those who were successful remained passionately committed to science and their science career despite career obstacles and breaks – science marathon runners. Some were ‘elite’ scientists pursuing discovery breakthroughs but the majority were the members of the science research workforce who do not aim to be research ‘stars’ but are critical to the teams that constitute the national scientific research enterprise. Many had gone to surprising lengths to remain engaged with their scientific discipline, despite the pain. Perhaps it is as Murakami observes in ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ ; ‘Pain is inevitable… suffering is optional’.


Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage, was funded as an ARC Linkage project 2011-2014 (LP110200480).
Project Cis were Professor Sharon Bell and Professor Lyn Yates. The project was hosted by the University of Melbourne.