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The Black Hole

Official launch of the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations


Last week, the International Consortium of Research Staff Associations (ICoRSA) was launched in connection with the VITAE Research Staff Conference. Forged in the fire that burns in the bellies of early career researchers with low salaries, little stability and poor career prospects, this organization aims to better the researcher profession by linking the individual (often national) organizations to each other.

ICoRSA has been busy in its first year of activity – they have successfully engaged postdoctoral and researcher organizations from across the world (including the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars) and their current board members reflect a good mix of these organizations. It will be interesting to compare the situation of researchers and research across the world, something that is desperately needed in the policy world.

One of the main advantages that ICoRSA has is its international breadth. Who better to assess the relative state of research than the researchers themselves who have spent numerous years in multiple different countries? As a community we have the unfortunate tendency to determine what the problems are without actually collecting and comparing the data. Indeed, much of what we speak about on our website is often drawn from single reports in single fields or single institutions with only a handful of reports appropriately contextualized. This results in decision making that is based on incomplete information and can result in major policy changes (e.g., the Banting scholarships in Canada) that impact the entire research community.

To highlight this, I look inside my own field and the tacit assumption in stem cell research that a permissive vs. restrictive national policy on stem cells is a major factor in researcher relocation (e.g., researchers would choose to work in locations that allowed them to do human embryonic stem cell research). When stem cell researchers were actually asked why they chose to relocate by a UBC research group (preliminary findings were reported at this year’s Till and McCulloch meeting in Banff), hardly any researchers listed regulatory environment as a major factor in moving. Rather, it seems researchers are moving for career, supervisor, research environment, etc.

ICoRSA therefore, could grow into a research hub for all of the data being collected in different countries. This sort of resource would allow governments and universities to adapt their research funding and administrative policies to the actual data across multiple countries. It would also inform researchers debating an international relocation about the new research system they would be entering. Indeed, very little is done to facilitate the transition to a new country.

Hopefully this will be a major priority of the ICoRSA group in their first years of existence – only engagement and data collection will lead the way for sound evidence based policy recommendations.

David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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