International Alzheimer’s Research Society and University College London survey turns a spotlight on early career researcher life and challenges

25/04/2022

The Alzheimer's Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer's Research and Treatment (ISTAART) Professional Interest Area to Elevate Early Career Researchers (PEERS) and University College London (UCL) have published compelling, and sometimes worrisome, new survey results. Listening to Early Career Dementia Researchers Report has unearthed both encouraging and cautionary new insights related to life as an early career dementia researcher. The voluntary survey was completed by more than 500 early career researchers (ECRs) from 42 countries, with the UK and US providing 34% of responses, working across all fields of dementia research and discovery, including lab-based research, clinicians and those working in care and qualitative research. Two thirds of those completing the survey were women, and 22% considered themselves as holding an identify which is underrepresented at their institution. 77% of early career dementia researchers are happy in their current role, but 84% agree or strongly agree that “the short-term nature of research contracts and funding is a barrier to making advancements and discoveries in dementia research.” Only 25% believe dementia research is sufficiently funded.

The survey highlights that there are many ECRs who are passionate about their work and happy in the field. At the same time, many are considering leaving, and there are significant barriers to remaining within the field. The main barriers to career progression are seen as funding (74%), job availability and security (60%) and work-life balance (54%). When asked if they were thinking of leaving dementia research, 52% responded yes / maybe. The survey included over 160 questions covering everything from thoughts on careers, health, workplace, discrimination, conferences, and the impact of the pandemic. Of particular concern is the finding that 43% of researchers have experienced mental health issues, affecting their effectiveness at work (74%), confidence (69%) and motivation (66%). Another significant finding comes on the issue of discrimination. The survey found that 51% of people thought that issues relating to sexism were improving. However, when considering ageism, racism, religion / faith, homophobia, and ableism, the majority are uncertain or feel the issues remain unchanged or have got worse. Further analysis of the results is being conducted, and the ISTAART PEERS Group is now working to provide much-needed support as identified by the initial responses. The group is working with partners to (a) highlight the survey results, and (b) deliver improvements with the goal of attracting and retaining more ECRs to choose dementia as their area of focus.

It is clear from the results that survey respondents would like to see:

• increased funding, particularly in areas where there are career bottlenecks, such as Fellowships / Postdoctoral Positions, and in countries where dementia research is not prioritised

• improved job security and longer contracts

• changes to research culture with more training, personal support and mentoring

• additional concerted efforts to address discrimination. Download the full report, and read about the authors and their work, on the Dementia Researcher website: 

https://www.dementiaresearcher.nihr.ac.uk/survey