Same problem, different day #PostDocStruggle

Summarized in Science Careers, a new report on the postdoctoral training system covers familiar ground.  As we’ve mentioned before (here), the current set-up for training postdocs is incredibly flawed.  The report, out in the U.S. National Acadamies press, highlights similar topics:

The postdoc experience in the United States continues to need significant reform, the report states. Only a minority of the postdocs working in university labs have opportunities to receive high-quality training from eminent senior researchers, develop their own research ideas, gain experience in lab management and grant writing, acquire contacts and a publication record and, ultimately, move into a tenure-track position at a research institution.

For the majority of postdocs, however—those supported by professors’ research grants and working in university laboratories—the postdoc years generally do not provide high-quality mentoring, movement toward scientific independence, adequate compensation and recognition, or guidance toward establishing a permanent career.

The report proposes several methods to improve the system, some of which have been suggested various times before:

  • “Postdoctoral appointments for a given postdoctoral researcher should total no more than 5 years in duration, barring extraordinary circumstances. This maximum term should include cumulative postdoctoral research experience, though extensions may be granted in extraordinary circumstances (e.g. family leave, illness).”
  • “The title of ‘postdoctoral researcher’ should be applied only to those people who are receiving advanced training in research. When the appointment period is completed, the postdoctoral researchers should move on to a permanent position externally or be transitioned internally to a staff position with a different and appropriate designation and salary.”
  • “Host institutions and mentors should, beginning at the first year of graduate school, make graduate students aware of the wide variety of career paths available for Ph.D. recipients, and explain that postdoctoral positions are intended only for those seeking advanced research training. The postdoctoral position should not be viewed by graduate students or principal investigators as the default step after the completion of doctoral training.”
  • “The NIH [National Institutes of Health] should raise the NRSA [National Research Service Award]postdoctoral starting salary to $50,000 (2014 dollars), and adjust it annually for inflation. Postdoctoral salaries should be appropriately higher where regional cost of living, disciplinary norms, and institutional or sector salary scales dictate higher salaries. In addition, host institutions should provide benefits to postdoctoral researchers that are appropriate to their level of experience and commensurate with benefits given to equivalent full-time employees … [including] health insurance, family and parental leave, and access to a retirement plan.”
  • “Host institutions should create provisions that encourage postdoctoral researchers to seek advice, either formally or informally, from multiple advisors, in addition to their immediate supervisor. Host institutions and funding agencies should take responsibility for ensuring the quality of mentoring through evaluation of, and training programs for, the mentors.”
  • “Every institution that employs postdoctoral researchers should collect data on the number of currently employed postdoctoral researchers and where they go after completion of their research training, and should make this information publicly available. The National Science Foundation should serve as the primary curator for establishing and updating a database system that tracks postdoctoral researchers, including non-academic and foreign-trained postdoctoral researchers.”

The proposals in the new report have all been made before. But circumstances have changed, and awareness and acceptance of the issues addressed in the report have never been higher. Whether these recommendations will have a greater effect than in the past remains to be seen.

As a future postdoc, all I can say is PREACH!


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