Applying for that alt-ac job

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 25 July 2019 as ‘What we talk about when we talk about recruitment’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


A cubicle corner, showing office stationery and a desk phone.
A corner of the office, by Lonnon Foster, on Flickr.

Recently, I started a new job. One of the first things on my to-do list was to employ someone to work with me. I thought that it might be useful to reflect on the recruitment process, particularly for academics who are looking for an alternative academic job (an ‘alt-ac job’ as some people call it)—an administrative job within a university environment.

Hiring, like everything, is cultural. Different countries do it differently. I’ve spent most of my working life as an administrator at Australian universities, helping academics with their research grants. All I can draw on is my own experience. Please keep in mind that this may not necessarily translate to your situation. Read more of this post

Lessons from the #postdocalypse

This post started life as a talk for the National Tertiary Education Union conference on Insecure Work. Thanks to the National Tertiary Education Union for inviting the Research Whisperer to be part of the conference, and for paying for my airfare and accommodation.


Graph showing biomedical PhDs rising to 2,500 per year, while plant sciences remain static.

Figure 1: US biomedical vs selected PhD graduates. Source:- Opinion: The Planet Needs More Plant Scientists, by Alan M. Jones, in The Scientist, 1 October 2014, via @Wyoweeds.

In the United States, in biotechnology research, a precipitous increase in PhD numbers over the last few years has resulted in unsustainable numbers of post-doc applicants.

People over there are calling it the #postdocalypse (figure 1). I want to use that as a jumping-off point for talking about insecure work in the research sector in Australia.

The situation in Australia is different to the USA. I’m looking mostly at contract research staff. That is, I’m looking at people who have insecure work, rather than people who are trying to get work. I do acknowledge, though, that the situation generally isn’t as dire as in the US. I haven’t heard of any postdocs here who are living out of thier cars. If you declare bankruptcy here, your student debt is wiped out, just like all your other debt.

Still, our data doesn’t look good, whichever way you look at it.

Australia is currently experiencing the lowest level of government funding for research since we started keeping statistics in 1979 (figure 2).

I’m always hopeful that we will convince the government to restore funding to CSIRO, the CRC program, and to research areas other than medicine. Read more of this post