The U.S. National Postdoc Survey: make sure you are counted

The U.S. National Postdoc Survey: make sure you are counted

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...

A call for transparency in career outcomes

Jessica Polka, Kristin Krukenberg and Gary McDowell have an article in today’s edition of Molecular Biology of the Cell, “A call for transparency in tracking student and postdoc career outcomes“. The article calls on the scientific community to collect and disseminate data on graduate student and postdoc career tracks.Without this data, it is not possible to tell whether there is, in fact, a national “STEM shortage”, and whether there are sufficient jobs available for graduate students and postdocs to justify the large numbers currently passing through the academic system....

Future of Research in US edition of “The Conversation”

STEM postdoc researchers are highly trained, but for what? By Gary McDowell, Tufts University The STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics supposedly suffer from a shortage of graduates. Conventional wisdom says there’s no one for employers to hire for science and engineering jobs. This STEM shortage myth has even figured in the immigration debate in the US. But look again. There are actually plenty of STEM graduates; the US is just training them the wrong way. It’s true there are many professional STEM vacancies but there are also many STEM grads who could fill them. The problem is the current training pipeline doesn’t direct graduates to these non-academic jobs. STEM students aren’t prepped for the professional world. Instead, they are guided toward an academic workforce that has expanded through a dramatic rise in the number of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Graduate researchers and postdocs – that is, researchers with PhDs carrying out advanced research – are part of the academic career track originally designed to lead to tenured academic research positions. As renowned engineer Vannevar Bush advised President Truman in 1945, while advocating for the creation of a National Science Foundation: The plan should be designed to attract into science only that proportion of the youthful talent appropriate to the needs of science in relation to the other needs of the nation’s high priority. However, the number of permanent – that is, tenured – jobs has not increased since that time, leading to hyper-competition and a massive pool of postdocs. Junior researchers are shamed by a culture that perceives leaving academia as a betrayal. Colloquially non-academic...