“The position of postdoc researchers is vulnerable: support is required”, concludes the Rathenau Instituut in a study into starting researchers at universities and university medical centres that was published today.

The institute echoes previous conclusions by OECD. In 2021, this international organisation for economic collaboration and development observed that young researchers are often on temporary contracts. The pressure is high to publish results and acquire research funds; otherwise they won’t be able to keep working within academia.


In the past few years, the government has strived for more fixed funding and more permanent jobs in higher education. Whether starting researchers are already noticing this in practice isn’t made clear in the report.

The Rathenau Instituut previously conducted research into the driving forces of researchers and teachers. From this, it deduced the need to take a closer look at starting researchers. Apart from postdocs, the Rathenau Instituut also involved PhD candidates and researchers in higher vocational education in the study.

Postdocs and PhD candidates would benefit from better supervision and more clarity with respect to the demands they must meet. The Rathenau Instituut cites previous research showing that good supervision contributes to fewer mental problems in PhD candidates and postdocs.

Recognition and rewards

Universities should also “more frequently offer postdocs a contract extension in case their project is delayed by causes such as pregnancy or disease”, the report reads.

Insecurity about their career perspectives is taking a heavy toll on the private lives of postdocs, the young researchers tell the Rathenau Instituut. Buying a house is put on the back burner, women delay having children and social contacts, sport activities and practicing their hobbies are under pressure.

Postdocs and PhD candidates say they haven’t noticed a whole lot of the Erkennen en waarderen (recognition and rewards) scheme. With this scheme that was launched in 2019, universities want to ensure less publication pressure and greater recognition of the teaching tasks of researchers, amongst other things. Half of the PhD candidates don’t know the scheme. Sometimes their supervisors say the scheme doesn’t apply to them.

Higher vocational education

The researchers in higher vocational education interviewed by the Rathenau Instituut have very different problems. They have the feeling they are of great value to the practice they’re researching, but notice they’re underappreciated by research financiers and fellow researchers at universities, writes the Rathenau Instituut.

Researchers in higher vocational education also struggle with inadequate research facilities, such as limited access to scientific journals. Furthermore, they’re reported to struggle with the unclear definition of practice-based research itself.


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