Travel Blockers: What Gets in the Way of Early Career Travel?

Five junior researchers share their thoughts on travel barriers

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A survey of over 200 junior researchers has revealled some of the key factors that get in the way of work travel early in a research career.

Now, five junior researchers have come forward to share their perspectives on the various travel blockers that their peers have identified.

1. Visas — Poonam Thakur, Post-doctoral Researcher

Science is an international enterprise thriving on free exchange of ideas and global collaborations. Strict visa regulations and procedures have turned out to be a hindrance for researchers, especially those coming from developing or under-developed countries.

Although I’ve worked in Europe for the last 5 years, as an Indian passport holder, my battle for visa-applications is very different from my European counterparts. Most visa applications are extremely expensive, complicated and exhausting. Recently, after navigating this cumbersome maze of visa process, I was mistakenly issued an invalid visa with improper dates, threatening my participation in a conference.

As science has become increasingly global, making visa process simpler, cheaper and largely online, and waiving personal interviews, would greatly assist researchers. Granting long-term multiple entry visas to researchers would not only decrease their hassle of reapplying for every conference, but also reduce the workload of immigration agencies, thereby preventing manual errors and reducing visa-processing time. Gradually, we should move towards visa-free travel to conferences and for short-term scientific visits. Last but not least, occasionally moving some of the prominent conferences outside Europe and North America to upcoming research hubs such as India, South Korea, Brazil etc. would not only promote inclusiveness, but also lessen the visa blues.

2. Childcare — Emma Wall, Clinical Lecturer Infectious Diseases

As an early career researcher with two small children I know I need to travel for work, to attend conferences and meetings, visit collaborators to showcase my work and build the relationships that are essential for success in science. However, the lack of support and the complexities of arranging care can make travelling for work expensive and stressful. Often, I must choose to either miss out on the career opportunities of travel, or incur costs and significant personal stress for me and my children when I do travel.

I have had my latest data accepted for presentation at an upcoming international conference. However, I may not be able to attend if I can’t arrange childcare, which I will have to pay for myself as this cost is not included in my current funding.

I would like to see universities and conferences have some sort of score that would rank them for availability of support and facilities for researchers with dependents. Greater recognition of this barrier by increasing availability of funding for childcare and structural change at all levels will greatly assist researchers such as myself undertake the necessary travel for career success.

3. Funding — Julian Keil, Assistant Professor

Attending international conferences is still the main networking tool in science. Early career researchers building their scientific network face a double problem: the pressure to make themselves known in the field, and the lack of funding to attend multiple conferences a year. This problem is made worse by the funding structure and the researchers’ lack of financial stability.

Currently, many universities expect conference attendants to pay for fees, travel and lodging in advance and reimburse these costs later. For example, for me, travel to a conference in the USA can lead to costs of multiple thousand euros, which can be the equivalent of a monthly salary or more.

To alleviate this, conference organizers should strive to limit costs by limiting fees and keeping travel costs in mind. Funding agencies should offer the option to provide advance payments based on estimated costs.

4. Time — Amal Ramzi Al-saqqaf, University Teaching Assistant and Masters Student

Junior researchers have less stability in their work, and they don’t usually have the right to travel when they want. Whereas senior researchers often have stable jobs in the university sector, which enables them to do research anywhere without losing their job (this is the case at public universities here in Yemen).

These senior professors also often have a lower workload, so they can substitute their lectures if they have to travel. On the other hand, the workload of junior researchers is usually higher, and they don’t have full control over their career. Therefore junior researchers often don’t pursue temporary opportunities to travel, prefering to focus on the duties and tasks at hand and not to distract themselves with the extra burdens that travel presents.

I think it’s a natural stage for junior researchers to go through while they build their career, but I also think it’s important that junior researchers look beyond the horizon and not limit themselves.

5. Carbon Emissions — Céline Heuzé, Assistant Professor

I am a climate researcher, advocating for behaviour changes to reduce greenhouse gas emission and try to save my research topic: the Arctic sea ice. Yet, like many climate researchers, I am expected to fly to the other end of the world several times a year for meetings. One of my colleagues recently flew from Sweden to China and back for just one weekend!

As an ECR, I felt like I had no choice but to go to all these conferences to show myself and hopefully be given a job. But one day I realised that that was not how it worked anyway, and that I had stopped enjoying conferences so much that I would often turn up sick and/or unprepared. So a year ago I decided to re-evaluate how I travel. I try to pick the one conference of the year that I want to attend, ideally in Europe; and I try to take the train as much as possible for it and other meetings. It takes time because international train booking is quite complex and trains are not punctual, so a lot of buffer must be planned, but I value each trip much more. And I feel better.

Learn more:

Analysis: Why Junior Researchers are Travelling Less

In numbers: Why Junior Researchers are Travelling Less

Video: The Results Are In: Junior Researcher Travel Barriers

Together Science Can is a global campaign to celebrate and protect scientific collaboration.

Join the campaign and spread the word.