National Postdoctoral Association - 20 Years

Results indicate systemic shortcomings that endanger U.S. scientific enterprise

ROCKVILLE, Md. /Massachusetts Newswire – National News/ — A survey released today by the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), 2023 Postdoctoral Barriers to Success, shows warning signs from a critical component of the nation’s science and research workforce. Today, more than 70,000 postdoctoral researchers (“postdocs”) who have completed their Ph.D. or other terminal degree work in senior positions in academia, government, and industry.

The new study indicates widespread stressors across all fundamental components of the postdoc position detract from a satisfactory professional and life experience. The negative effects could be contributing to decreased interest among graduate students in entering the postdoc position and difficulty in institutions in attracting and retaining such researchers.

Salary shortcomings are key, with approximately 19 out of 20 postdocs surveyed indicating that their salaries have a negative impact on their professional and/or personal lives. Salaries for first-year postdocs funded at a widely-used benchmark by the National Institutes of Health are less than $55,000 for our most highly-educated workforce, a figure lower than frequently-cited salaries for those entering private sector work with only an undergraduate degree.

“Salaries are only the beginning of the issue,” commented Thomas P. Kimbis, executive director and chief executive officer of the NPA. “We need to dig deeper across all factors influencing this population to ensure that postdoctoral researchers and their institutions succeed, while our nation’s scientific enterprise remains robust.”

The NPA survey asked about twenty-four factors with possible implications for postdocs and found that, in every case, at least half of respondents were negatively impacted in some manner. Other than salary, top concerns included the lack of clarity of pathway to next position, unclear definition of their time as a postdoc, and job security and position guarantees.

International postdocs working in the U.S. face additional setbacks. Nearly three-quarters of international postdocs indicated that additional vulnerabilities associated with their foreign status have a high-level, negative impact on their professional and/or personal lives. Today, international researchers comprise more than half of the postdoc workforce in the U.S.

Despite these challenges, postdocs across all fields continue to accomplish a significant amount of critical research to the benefit of their disciplines, to science, and to the nation. Postdocs are not alone in seeking change: academic institutions, foundations and government entities are also interested in solutions. Addressing needs identified in this survey may multiply the positive impact of postdocs, expand the interest and retention in the postdoc position, and create a more personally and professionally satisfied research workforce.

“The NPA encourages institutions hosting postdocs as well as funding agencies to review these findings and to work with the NPA to implement appropriate actions to address them,” said Kimbis.

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About National Postdoctoral Association:

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational association headquartered in Rockville, MD. Founded in 2003, the NPA envisions an inclusive community where all postdocs are empowered, valued, recognized, and supported in their current and future endeavors. The NPA serves the entire postdoctoral community, including its more than 21,000 individual and 230 organizational members.

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