Unpaid work and access to science professions

Auriel M. V. Fournier, Angus J. Holford, Alexander L. Bond, Margaret A. Leighton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Across science professions there has long been a large lack of diversity in the workforce at all levels. While this has been improving slowly over the last few decades, barriers still exist that are limiting access to careers in the scientific workforce in a way that disproportionately impacts underrepresented groups. One of these barriers is unpaid work, often in the form of seasonal lab/field technician positions that are taken by early career ornithologists, during or after their undergraduate degrees. Many early career ornithologists are told unpaid work is a way of demonstrating their dedication to the field, or getting their ‘foot in the door’ towards later employment. The problem is that working unpaid full time for weeks or months is not possible for those who do not have the financial resources, which makes financial resources an unwritten requirement for unpaid jobs. We compared the success of UK university graduates with a science degree who took paid or unpaid work six-months after graduation in obtaining a high salary or working in a STEM field 3.5 years later. Taking unpaid work was associated with lower earnings and lower persistence in STEM compared with paid work. These results are important for two groups of people, those who make budgetary decisions, at the granting agency and project level, who should care about making entry into science careers at early stages accessible to all. In addition, early career ornithologists, should be fully informed about the utility of different job options available to them.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2019 Joint Meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists and the Wilson Ornithological Society, 27-30 October 2019, Cape May, New Jersey
StatePublished - 2019


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