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The type of funding that postdoctoral researchers receive can have a dramatic influence on the quality of their experience.

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The success of the postdoctoral experience often depends on various key mentoring relationships. This has proven especially beneficial to women and others underrepresented in STEM fields. There are other programs designed to assist career transitions into media, teaching, and other professions. Postdoctoral researchers commonly fall between employee categories, and with this lack of solid definition comes incomplete or inconsistent benefits.

Although postdoctoral researchers are often supplied with some form of official letter of appointment or contract, results from the Sigma Xi survey indicated that they are unaware of potential services available at their institutions or if those services are even offered see Table When you began this postdoc, did you receive an official letter of appointment or contract? Are you aware of formal written policies in your department or institution that address any of the following issues?

Because the survey is not scientific, quantitative conclusions cannot be given much weight, but certain trends are clear; for example, which institutions have the highest proportion of postdoctoral researchers satisfied with certain aspects of their experience. Some institutions, such as the J. David Gladstone Institutes, consistently receive high marks by the postdoctoral researchers working there.

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Examples of some of the practices used at the J. David Gladstone Institutes are highlighted in Box Box Supportive Practices for Postdoctoral Researchers. David Gladstone Institutes demonstrates that providing formal recognition and support structures can improve the postdoctoral experience. David Gladstone Institutes is a medical research institution affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco.

It includes graduate training for Ph.

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Its treatment of postdoctoral researchers can serve as one example of good practices. One area where J. David Gladstone Institutes excel is in open, easy-to-access information. Alongside the website for graduate students is a site of postdoctoral researcher-relevant material. This gives postdoctoral researchers an obvious place to find information and makes them feel like an integral part of the institution. The website also makes explicit many aspects of the postdoctoral experience that are often ill-defined. For example, the institute publishes standard salaries and benefits so that prospective postdoctoral researchers know what to expect and what is typical for all postdoctoral positions.

Another exemplary practice at J.


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David Gladstone Institutes is that they structure their postdoctoral positions so that the postdoctoral researchers can achieve some advancement in their careers e. The mentoring aspect of the position is taken seriously, with standardized expectations set by the institution. There is an Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, so that postdoctoral researchers have access to guidance and assistance in addition to what they receive from their principal investigator.

Finally, postdoctoral positions at J.

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David Gladstone Institutes begin with salaries significantly above the standard set by the National Institutes of Health, and postdoctoral researchers receive raises of about 5 percent per year of seniority. In the Sigma Xi survey of postdoctoral researchers, the benefits that were most desired were retirement savings benefits, dental insurance, and child care. Health insurance coverage is very important and expected.


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  7. Sigma Xi found that expectation largely met, with 97 percent of postdoctoral researchers reporting health insurance offered to them with their job, although the survey did not indicate what portion of the cost the postdoctoral researchers covered and what portion of the cost was covered by the employing institutions. With this finding, and the NIH recently increasing the institutional allowance for health benefits associated with its National Research Service Awards, it appears that access to health insurance is among the areas where the actual postdoctoral experience is largely meeting expectations.

    The more recent NPA survey found that more than 78 percent of postdoctoral researchers who receive health benefits pay less than 25 percent of the premium. In addition, approximately In the survey of life-science postdoctoral researchers conducted by The Scientist , pay and benefits actually rank very low among the concerns covered by the survey.

    Much more common concerns, even at the institutions that were ranked highly, were about equitable treatment of postdoctoral researchers and allowances for family and personal life. Based on these and other findings, having an established set of guidelines and procedures is an important component to a satisfying postdoctoral experience see Box The NPA survey found that the majority of responding institutions 61 percent of 84 have established and disseminate a process for postdoctoral researchers to address their grievances an additional 20 percent have a process established.

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    A major change in the postdoctoral enterprise is internationalization. Along with the increase in international postdoctoral researchers in the U. Although it might seem reasonable to assume that the United States will continue to be able to attract large numbers of high-quality postdoctoral researchers from across the globe, it is necessary to remember that a policy change in China or India, better opportunities for postdoctoral research in other countries, or shifts in the labor market for those with postdoctoral training could also have significant, if less immediate, effects.

    The future well-being of the U. Many postdoctoral researchers do not have—or feel that they do not have—a way to deal with problems in the workplace outside of approaching their principal investigator. While the committee is not recommending any specific unionization or grievance procedure, it does see a need for some type of institutional mechanism for addressing problems that might arise for postdoctoral researchers.

    Postdoctoral researchers in the University of California UC system unionized in , selecting the United Automobile Workers Local as their exclusive representative, and negotiated their first contract with the UC system in The union represents more than 6, postdoctoral researchers across the UC campuses, and negotiates minimum standards for salary and benefits.

    The collective bargaining agreement also contains a formal system for addressing postdoctoral researcher grievances. Under the union contract, if a postdoctoral researcher has a grievance, then she or he has a way of registering the complaint outside of her or his supervisor or department. Some research indicates that the relative attractiveness of study in the United States is declining. Although the U. Stephan, Franzoni, and Scellato Researchers found that international competition to attract highly qualified postdoctoral researchers is increasing. For example, a U. Developed countries, such as Germany and Japan, have traditionally made efforts to encourage their citizens to return home after receiving postsecondary training in the United States.

    A recent trend indicates that many developing countries—including China and India, which together constitute the largest source of international graduate students in the United States CRS —are actively recruiting their citizens who have conducted postdoctoral research abroad to return home for permanent positions. Similarly to the United States, postdoctoral organizations have formed around the globe, and the resources available to postdoctoral researchers interested in exploring international opportunities are numerous see Box Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Students published an extensive survey of the Canadian postdoctoral researcher population in National Institute of Science and Technology Policy in Tokyo surveyed postdoctoral researchers from seven universities and one national lab in The Vitae organization provides career support for doctoral researchers and also collects data through its Careers-in-Research Online Survey; the U.

    Research Staff Association, which is part of Vitae, serves as a professional organization for doctoral researchers. Eurodoc serves doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, and junior researchers. The World Association of Young Scientists provides a global forum for issues concerning postdoctoral researchers and other young researchers. August Accessed on May 8, The National Academies are not alone in acknowledging a need to reconfigure the state of postdoctoral training in the United States. Although research institutions are clearly paying much more attention to the needs of postdoctoral researchers than they were in , a flurry of recent reports suggests that many of the problems that existed in have yet to be resolved.

    The volume of reports, articles, and discussions about postdoctoral training has grown enormously in the past 10 years. Research Enterprise , which ends with a call to restructure postdoctoral training. They are, de facto , low-paid university research staff. A survey by the Computing Research Association found that the number of Ph. A number of other organizations, professional societies, and media outlets have also written about the problems of postdoctoral training. There seems little doubt that this corner of the research enterprise deserves increased attention.

    The path forward needs to begin with recognition of the appropriate roles that postdoctoral researchers perform in the United States as well as the global science and engineering enterprise. The policies of institutions and funding agencies must reflect and respect the needs of an increasingly diverse and international workforce and provide postdoctoral researchers with commensurate support and benefits.

    It is crucial and beneficial to everyone that guided self-examination about careers and career choice are made by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. That ground-breaking report assessed the postdoctoral experience and provided principles, action points, and recommendations to enhance that experience. Since the publication of the report, the postdoctoral landscape has changed considerably. The percentage of PhDs who pursue postdoctoral training is growing steadily and spreading from the biomedical and physical sciences to engineering and the social sciences. The average length of time spent in postdoctoral positions seems to be increasing.

    The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited reexamines postdoctoral programs in the United States, focusing on how postdocs are being guided and managed, how institutional practices have changed, and what happens to postdocs after they complete their programs. This book explores important changes that have occurred in postdoctoral practices and the research ecosystem and assesses how well current practices meet the needs of these fledgling scientists and engineers and of the research enterprise.


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    The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited takes a fresh look at current postdoctoral fellows - how many there are, where they are working, in what fields, and for how many years. This book makes recommendations to improve aspects of programs - postdoctoral period of service, title and role, career development, compensation and benefits, and mentoring. Current data on demographics, career aspirations, and career outcomes for postdocs are limited.

    This report makes the case for better data collection by research institution and data sharing. A larger goal of this study is not only to propose ways to make the postdoctoral system better for the postdoctoral researchers themselves but also to better understand the role that postdoctoral training plays in the research enterprise. It is also to ask whether there are alternative ways to satisfy some of the research and career development needs of postdoctoral researchers that are now being met with several years of advanced training. Postdoctoral researchers are the future of the research enterprise.

    The discussion and recommendations of The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited will stimulate action toward clarifying the role of postdoctoral researchers and improving their status and experience.

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