The invisibility of postdocs: updating postdoc administration at institutions

The invisibility of postdocs: updating postdoc administration at institutions

In 2015, a paper by coordinated by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), “Toward a sustainable biomedical research enterprise: Finding consensus and implementing recommendations” identified a number of consensus recommendations made across academia for ways to improve the sustainability of the research enterprise. At a summit organized by the society in February, working groups discussed ways of implementing some of these recommendations. A key issue that came up was the necessity of the postdoc population, and yet the scarcity of information we have about this key step in the academic pathway.


As discussed in “Four reasons we don’t need 37 names for postdocs,” a key barrier to reforming the postdoctoral position is effectively administering it. With the huge variety of designations and ways of administering postdocs, we are in a position in the academic enterprise that we don’t know how many postdocs there are at institutions. Not only is this making identification of postdocs and ensuring their salaries comply with new federal labor regulations (see our “FLSA and postdocs” resource) difficult; it also hampers efforts to use the skills of postdoctoral researchers, a “trainee” population that is largely untracked. A key complaint from faculty search committees in trying to make a more diverse faculty is the “talent pool”; however postdocs from a diversity of backgrounds are in the postdoctoral workforce – there are more than 3000 postdocs from underrepresented minorities in the postdoc population. The nebulous nature of administering them makes postdocs hard to identify.


For these reasons and more, FoR and ASBMB are proposing a nationwide implementation of a clear system of postdoctoral administration. Mike Schaller and Gary McDowell, in “Are postdocs still invisible?” in the latest edition of ASBMB Today, make the case for this reform. FoR and ASBMB are gathering information from institutions who currently administer postdocs well, to find successes and failures, challenges and barriers to implementation that they have identified. We are looking to reach out to the wider community to find ways of implementing these changes, including the production of a protocol for institutions to follow to make these changes, and to work with other organizations interested in the role of postdoctoral researchers in academia.

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