UPDATED: The Running Hot conference for emerging researchers is underway in Wellington – follow updates via Twitter @smcnz. Last night kicked off with an interesting panel discussion moderated by Radio New Zealand’s science-friendly Nights host, Bryan Crump.

running hot

Crump quizzed three scientists on their areas of research, with included climate change, neuroscience and epigenetics. Before that, outgoing acting CEO Lesley Middleton from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology put up a slightly disturbing slide that caused a lot of discussion among the gathered early-career researchers.

Here’s that diagram Lesley Presented H/T Dr Michael Edmonds for finding it in Igniting Potential. UPDATED: The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology has provided an updated version of the graph which shows only science-related PhDs. The previous version showed all PhDs – 14,148 of them…

career pathway

It showed using arrows of varying thickness illustrating what percentage of PhDs go where after university (if I can get hold of a copy of it I’ll post it). It showed that around 68 per cent of PhDs don’t continue on in research but disappear off into other sectors to do a myriad range of things. Only two per cent will advance through academia to eventually become professors. Many in the room felt the seemingly large exodus of PhDs from academia is a sign that there aren’t enough attractive opportunities in research in New Zealand for those seeking post-doc projects.

Middleton didn’t seem so concerned about it. She said what was more important were the “feedback loops” that saw PhDs going out into industry or Government coming back in contact with academia in some form of collaboration. Her message was that we need to boost this kind of public-private collaboration to make our country more innovative. Fair point, but there was lingering unease in the room at the massive grey arrow diverting 68.8 per cent of qualified PhDs out of research and into the ether.

Prior to that, myself and Science Media Centre colleague Dacia Herbulock again gave researchers tips on communicating their science. This time there was a bit of a twist – after getting researchers to describe their science in one or two sentences, we then got them to repeat the exercise, summing up their science in a maximum of seven words. Here are some of the results…

My personal favourite…

Is Facebook the new-age ‘virtual’ marae?

Some of the others:

Ways people heat and cool their homes

Telling the story of migration between western countries

Technology to help people with brain injuries

How do people have ethical sex

Stopping babies exploding

How we organise knowledge affects what is possible

Telling the stories of merino wool

Nanomaterials as high performance electronic devices

Understand the relationship between structure and function

I develop rehabilitation devices for stroke patients

I want to make a molecular dragon

Transporting people in resource-constrained cities

Torturing shellfish: Using stress to develop understanding

Are we what our mothers eat?

Mysteries of the deep sea.

Disasters: survival of the fittest?

Does earthquake risk influence tourist choices?