Unpaid labour, mental-health disorders, discrimination and abuse are rampant concerns in marine science, according to a survey of students and early-career researchers in the field.



The following extract is from an article published in Nature and considers a research paper from Frontiers in Marine Science published in August of 2022.

Of the 492 respondents to the survey, conducted globally between 1 April and 5 May 2020, nearly three-quarters said they had experienced mockery, discrimination and/or abuse in their place of work or education. Nearly one-fifth of respondents reported sexual abuse, and more than one-third reported verbal abuse. Around a quarter of the respondents were from the UK.

Many participants, particularly those who identified as female or non-binary, reported experiencing anxiety, depression or burnout. More than 60% of respondents felt that their mental health had worsened because of their work. And more than one-third reported working in unpaid positions under risky conditions, including situations in which they had to use malfunctioning or unsanitary equipment, or had insufficient protection from chemicals. The survey did not provide more information on working conditions.

While attending the 2019 World Marine Mammal Science Conference in Barcelona, Spain, the study’s lead author — Anna Osiecka, a marine researcher at the University of Gdańsk in Poland — says she had heard an unusually high number of anecdotes about unpaid work and mistreatment from graduate students. To explore the extent of these experiences, she and her colleagues launched the online survey, aimed at early-career researchers from undergraduate students to postdoctoral researchers in ocean and marine science.

Limited diversity

Most of the survey-takers were between the ages of 22 and 35, and 82% were women. Fewer than half of the respondents held a paid job in ocean science or conservation, yet 49% had a graduate degree in the field. Most were white and from the global north — a possible artefact of the survey methods, which included outreach on social media and professional mailing lists, says Osiecka.

Harassment and poor working conditions are prevalent

Fewer than one-quarter of survey participants had told superiors about some of the abuse that they had experienced — ranging from discriminatory exclusion from work to performing tasks that put their health, life or safety at risk — and just under 3% said they had reported all of it.

Respondents painted a picture of widespread unpaid labour. Only about 60% of all of the participants’ reported work time was paid; the rest was either unpaid or was compensated by food and board.

Osiecka hopes that the survey results help to demonstrate the scale of workplace abuse and discrimination across the discipline. “It’s not just single people being ridiculous, overreacting or being overly sensitive,” she says. “There is a massive issue with how we’re all being treated.”

The research paper in Frontiers in Marine Science can be read here and the full article from Nature can be found here.

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