No. 37




Research Career Model as a Support to the Competitiveness of a Country *

04 June 2018


RiTo No. 37, 2018

  • Tarmo Soomere

    Tarmo Soomere

    President of the Estonian Academy of Sciences

  • Ülo Niinemets

    Ülo Niinemets

    Member of the Academy of Sciences, Professor of Plant Physiology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences

  • Katrin Niglas

    Katrin Niglas

    Vice-rector for Research, Tallinn University

  • Ebe Pilt

    Ebe Pilt

    Communication Officer, Estonian Academy of Sciences

  • Tiina Randma-Liiv

    Tiina Randma-Liiv

    Vice-dean for Research, Professor at Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance, Tallinn University of Technology

The article outlines the principles of contemporary research career models together with descriptions of their chief elements, modifications in the recent past, and known bottlenecks. An optimal research career model is found to be one of the cornerstones of a knowledge-based society. Ideally, it is also a transfer mechanism of researchers’ capacity into practices meeting societal needs in the best possible way. The conceptual framework, recommended basic principles, as well as possible proportions of models suitable for Estonia are discussed.

The best-suited career model to be implemented in Estonia has to be clear and transparent and, at the same time, sufficiently flexible and exception-tolerant. It is expected to communicate a motivating message to talented young researchers, enable creaming off excellent researchers in a relatively early stage of their careers, and contribute to promoting equal opportunities. The chief aim of the model is to attract the very best (top) researchers into the Estonian academic landscape and to keep them here.

It is recommended that the core of such a model is formed by a tenure system (temporary positions on the tenure track followed by permanent tenure positions), launched as an extension to the currently existing research and development system. Desirably, the tenure system should encompass a relatively small cohort of top researchers. Career paths in the tenure system should be threshold-based and follow the principle of legitimate expectation. Stable funding is an undisputed prerequisite for the tenure system and must be the responsibility of the entire institution.

While the principles of the tenure system should be established by law, it makes good sense to give universities a wide span of control for determining the details.

In all probability, this kind of a system will make research careers attractive, offering enhanced job security and internationally competitive working conditions to the successful candidates. A broad-based academic community has to be upheld in parallel with the tenure system in order to ensure the flexibility of the research landscape.

The specific features of tenure-type models are analysed with respect to research mobility, fostering of cutting edge science, evolution of research collaboration and hindering factors. Also, the issues of gender inequality in context of career models are described. For the evaluation of researchers’ performance, it would be fair to take into account their achievements during the period of time when they were actively involved in research.

Recommendations for implementing separate elements of such a system in Estonia are formulated and possible sources for its funding are indicated. Smooth functioning of the system is guaranteed only if the researchers’ exit occurs in a timely and dignified manner. The possible solutions for shaping an extended academic labour market in Estonia are described. Continuing the institutionalisation of the so-called industrial PhD education and launching of topical Academy Research Professor’s institution are recommended.

* Peer-reviewed article