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A Call to Action: The DEOC Statement on Improving the Working Conditions for Early Stage Researchers in Science

26 September 2023

The HBP as a European Science Collaboration, collaborating with researchers around the globe, is convinced of the high relevance of equal opportunities, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) as the cornerstones of innovation and progress in science.

However, disparities in employment contracts and working conditions at universities across Europe and worldwide raise serious concerns for us. Existing literature points to precarious work conditions, especially for early-career researchers, leading to a lack of long-term career perspectives. This can significantly impede many talented individuals, especially women from entering and prospering in the field of science. Similarly, it's crucial to recognize that these disparities can contribute to gender and other forms of discrimination, affecting career progression and undermining our collective efforts towards fostering EDI. Taking into account legislation we must acknowledge its role in contributing to precarious employment situations. As the Swiss Campaign for better Working Conditions in Academia notes “around the world, students and staff are protesting”, for example the German 'Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz' (WissZeitVG, Act on Temporary Contracts in Higher Education and Research) led to protests analysing the effects, sharing individual experiences and requesting reform.

Against this backslash, we propose the following measures to counteract these negative effects:

1. Harmonisation of Standards: Working towards a consensus with international organizations, national governments, and university administrations to establish employment standards in science. This includes working towards better job security and fair wages, comparable working conditions for all scientific researchers, irrespective of their geographical location, health or family obligations.

2. Equal Opportunities Framework: Creating a globally accepted framework that ensures fair treatment and equal opportunities for researchers, irrespective of their personal circumstances or backgrounds.

3. Financial Support Mechanisms: Introducing financial support mechanisms such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships for scientists from low-income countries or underprivileged backgrounds and parents travelling with children to lower the economic barriers in pursuing scientific careers.

4. Transparency and Accountability: Encouraging transparency around working conditions and contracts in universities, perhaps via an international database, allowing researchers to compare information about different institutions.

5. Commitment and Engagement: Encourage commitment among researchers, especially those with leadership responsibilities. This is applicable to all members of the scientific community, ranging from students to senior researchers and administrators.

6. Consider Mobility: Addressing the challenges presented by international mobility within the academic sector, to foster greater equal opportunities and diversity.

The future of our global community is deeply intertwined with the strength and diversity of our scientific community. Therefore, we must act promptly to address these disparities and foster a more inclusive, diverse, and equal scientific landscape. Only by ensuring equal opportunities for all can we unlock the true potential of global scientific research.