While problems facing the scientific workforce have lately been receiving increased attention, e.g. through efforts such as Rescuing Biomedical Research and meetings such as the Future of Research, data collection on the status of postdocs has been inadequate. In many cases, postdocs have not been clearly defined, in part due to lack of consistency in job titles, and it is unclear how many postdocs positions there currently are nationwide, with estimates ranging anywhere from ~40,000-90,000.
A shortage of data has limited national efforts to propose and assess policy changes. The last large-scale survey of postdocs was performed in 2006. While recommended reforms such as Individual Development Plans (IDPs) have been proposed and implemented over the past decade, such ongoing policy efforts have been severely constrained without access to adequate data to assess the effects of these policy changes.
At UChicago, postdocs have been collecting longitudinal data from postdocs at our institution for over 15 years. These data have led to substantial policy changes that have improved the local postdoc experience. While attending the National Postdoc Association annual meeting two years ago, Sean McConnell and Erica Westerman (UChicago survey committee leaders) realized that other institutions have also been conducting surveys of their postdocs, but rarely has this data been shared beyond individual institutions (limiting its impact), underscoring the need for postdoc data collection to be conducted on a national scale.
To address this need, last month a team of postdocs from the postdoc association at the University of Chicago launched the National Postdoc Survey (NPS). This postdoc-led (grassroots!) survey [more info at https://postdocsurvey.org ] is being sent out to U.S. institutions through the end of June. They are attempting to reach as many postdocs as possible in the United States and currently have over 2,500 responses. They are excited to make this data available to the scientific community, and to see how it might be used to help improve the U.S. scientific workforce.
Last month, Joe Pierre published a short piece in AJP, “Rethinking The Biomedical Postdoc: But First Lets Get The Data”. Further effort is still needed (e.g. through channels such as professional societies), to increase awareness and help as many more postdocs to participate in these survey efforts. For further information, please contact the survey team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Future of Research thinks it vitally important that as much data as possible about postdocs is collected to understand the postdoc position and advocate for changes, as part of our efforts to advocate for all junior scientists and early career researchers. Postdocs have been described as “invisible” for nearly 50 years with little change to how they are administered or studied, despite being a crucial step on the road to traditional academic positions. This survey is helpful only if postdocs are counted, though, so make sure to find out more if you haven’t heard about it already!**
This post was generated with kind help, materials and text from Joe Pierre and Sean McConnell at the University of Chicago.