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UK Astronomy: Great prospects but important problems to be addressed


A report entitled “International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy” was published on 26 January 2006.

The conclusions of the international panel included the following statement:
“The UK continues to enjoy a high standing in astrophysics and solar system physics. The best departments and individuals have outstanding international reputations and there has been considerable growth on several fronts since the 2000 review, both in terms of participation in large international projects and in developing new research areas. The astrophysics and solar system physics enterprise is poised for a very productive decade.”

However, the members of the panel also recognised a number of problems that need to be addressed:

• The panel was deeply concerned that physics has ceased to be an identifiable topic in many universities. They considered that student career choices in secondary schools were not a good basis for driving a significant contribution to the financial health of university departments.

• The panel cautioned that funding agencies need to maintain a balance between the large investments in international facilities and funding opportunities to exploit them.

• The panel challenged the UK to have two female academic members of staff in each university physics and astronomy department by the end of the decade.

Other issues raised by the review included:

• No progress, since the 2000 review, in providing a proper career development environment for post-doctoral scientists. This is an area of major interest to the RAS, and the Society has recently undertaken a major review of career opportunities for PhD students in astronomy ( See )

• The short duration of UK PhD training was undermining the ability of PhD graduates in physics and astronomy to compete scientifically with their peers from other countries.

Dr. Mike Hapgood | alfa
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