As 'freelance' scientists, we undertake research jointly with academic institutions and provide Earth-science modelling services for clients — an alternative career path that European Union funding enables us to pursue. If the United Kingdom chooses to leave the EU after this week's referendum, small private research organizations and independent researchers could be doomed.
Independent researchers cannot apply for funding from UK research councils. Private research organizations need demonstrable in-house research capacity and a minimum of ten researchers. These eligibility criteria are at odds with those of the UK arts councils and the European Commission, which consider proposals from anyone with a track record in their discipline.
With 88% of UK postdocs never securing a tenured position (The Scientific Century: Securing our Future Prosperity; Royal Society, 2010), these requirements need to be relaxed (see also Nature 520, 144–147; 2015). Entrepreneurial young scientists could then continue their research without the backing of a university.
For the United Kingdom to maintain its competitive edge, funding bodies need to recognize that the research landscape is changing. In this era of digital connectivity, scientists can still be embedded in the research community while working outside traditional research organizations.