Size Zero Science

As we approach the expected announcement of more huge cuts to the UK science budget, you'd be mistaken for thinking that physicists had been living like fat cats for years. Vince Cable's implication that 45% of research grants were not excellent hasn't helped particularly as only excellent research gets funded anyway. In fact, UK physics has been "belt tightening" over the past 3 years like a supermodel on a destructive diet.

With so much of the budget committed to new buildings and kit, it is the jobs of younger scientists and engineers that has been affected the most. Over the past 1-2 years I've seen many of my friends lose their jobs through grants being cut or funding discontinued (despite being ranked as excellent). Within the system though, nobody uses the phrases "job cuts" or "redundancies" so most people have ignored what this has meant for young scientists.

Young astronomers spend the years following their PhD in a series of 2-3 year long contracts. When a job comes to an end they can't just walk into their local job centre. Either they leave astronomy or attempt to find funding in another city or move to another country. It costs a lot to move and is particularly difficult for those with partners or a young family. This has long been the case but these days there are far more people qualified for fewer jobs which are increasingly insecure. Once you've cut a young scientist out of science, it's very difficult for them to get back into it even if you re-instated the funding. Effectively you've scrapped a generation of scientists.

Three years of being told that excellent isn't good enough, being in fear that your job will be cut at any moment, two governments spinning the cuts so they look good, and a funding council that may no longer honour contracts has led to huge amounts of negative feeling amongst young astronomers in the UK. Science and the people who do it are vital to both our society and the economy.

So Mr Cable and Mr Cameron, when you're making your cuts, please remember that some areas have made 20-40% cuts already and are suffering from the extreme diet they've been put on. Someone in government needs to realise that size zero science is not healthy and can not be sustained.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 01st Oct 2010 (10:50 BST) | Permalink
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