Fewer postdocs?

Oct 23 2015 Published by under Postdoctoral Training

From @NatureNews:

  

The full story by Monya Baker

21 responses so far

  • DJMH says:

    I want to see data on whether the decline in postdocs is simply that they've all hit the 5 year limit and been renamed "staff scientists" or whatever. My impression is that more universities have implemented rules like that lately, and it has a big effect.

    But I don't know how we could figure that out, given that unis don't care enough about postdocs to track them.

  • Philapodia says:

    Perhaps the decrease we're seeing is the 30+ year post-docs finally retiring.

  • duke of neural says:

    I went from one postdoc to another. Maybe they didn't realize I got a new one and that's why it went from 40 to 38. I'm not sure who the other one would be though.

  • anon says:

    I don't think it's an issue with their titles, because this is based on surveys of postdocs and grad students, not just looking at job titles databases.

    "The data on postdocs comes from the US National Science Foundation Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates. "

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Of course there's fewer post-docs. While the NIH budget has been flat for the last five years, post-doc salaries have continued to rise.

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    On the lines of what CPP said, some depts/universities are converting their postdocs to 'scientists' early (my alma mater did so at 3 yrs of postdoc). That way the pressure is on to start applying for grants to support a good portion of your salary. In fact, about 3-4 years ago, said alma mater (at least the department I was in) told all scientists that they would only fund 50% of their salaries next year onwards and the rest would have to come from grants.

  • drugmonkey says:

    It's simple arithmetic

  • Noncoding Arenay says:

    I wish this simple arithmetic would also bring about a decline in the $ amount of institutional training grants and number of grad students.

  • DJMH says:

    I don't think it's an issue with their titles, because this is based on surveys of postdocs and grad students, not just looking at job titles databases.

    "But he remains to be convinced that the decline is real. Postdocs’ official titles and sources of support vary widely, making this population difficult to track. His team found that many institutions were not sure how many postdocs they had."

    said the author of the study.

    Do you imagine that NSF has a crystal ball telling it the email addresses of all postdocs? Do you count a 7th year postdoc who now has a title of "staff scientist" but is, for all intents and purposes, still a postdoc, to be a postdoc?

  • Spike Lee says:

    Does anyone else see something funny here? Check out the solid orange line (biomed postdocs). It seems to show an UP-tick for a few years starting in 2007, and then a down-swing around 2010. The data point at 2013 looks to be about what you would get if you simply extrapolated the pre-2007 data. The solid gray line looks somewhat similar.

    Could there be something more nuanced going? E.g. a surge in postdocs in response to the financial crisis, which is just now correcting itself to resemble "normal" growth levels?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Noticed that SL. Will be interesting to see the next 3 years.

  • sel says:

    Yeah, that temporary up-tick might have been due to the extra ARRA funds that were made available at that time, which are no longer available.

    One major problem that may lead to a downturn in the very near future is new health insurance regulations. I don't know if these are just for my state or nationwide. We just had a faculty meeting where this was discussed. We are now required to provide health insurance for the postdoc, the postdoc's spouse, and any children. So that's about $15,000 a year from our grants. On top of the postdoc salary, which is still being figured out but is recommended to meet the NIH minimum which is around $42,000 a year.

    We all looked at each other and started shaking our heads. Most of us have NSF funding, not NIH funding. If you submit a budget to the NSF that includes $57,000 a year for a postdoc (plus the overhead that gets charged on it), you will get laughed out of your review panel unless you are a BSD.

    So....the only types who will be hiring postdocs: new faculty with big startup packages....folks with NIH funding.....and BSD's, who, quite often, are in the position to tell prospective postdocs, "if you want the privilege of working for me, I expect you to bring your own funding."

  • ucprof says:

    I did not recognize the steady increase in women postdocs. There are now more women postdocs than men, if you just count US Citizens and Permanent Residents.

    Here's a quick plot of the data:
    http://imgur.com/rhRDRIR

    The data is from the source article, posted here http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2015/09/30/fj.15-280552/suppl/DC1

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "While the NIH budget has been flat for the last five years, post-doc salaries have continued to rise."
    -That would be a fine argument, but it doesn't explain why there are more grad students than ever before despite an even steeper increase in cost/RPG funding ratio:
    http://datahound.scientopia.org/2014/05/20/historical-trends-in-predoc-and-postdoc-stipends-and-average-grant-sizes/

    "“Now that graduate students may finally be getting a more realistic perspective on their chances for academic employment, the pool of postdocs may start to decline,”"
    -Anecdotally, this feels like the most likely explanation, along with people feeling more comfortable bailing on a postdoc after 2-3 years, as opposed to slogging it out for the 5 generally seems to be required to maneuver into a faculty gig.

    "...a surge in postdocs in response to the financial crisis, which is just now correcting itself to resemble "normal" growth levels?"
    -I just saw a seminar this morning by Paula Stephen, a economist studying the biomedical workforce,
    and she suggested a similar explanation. I'd like this explanation to be wrong, since it isn't as encouraging as a glimmer of hope that the postdoc glut may be subsiding.

  • Susan says:

    Yeah, my first thought was ARRA bump.

  • Dusanbe says:

    sel wrote:
    "So....the only types who will be hiring postdocs: new faculty with big startup packages....folks with NIH funding.....and BSD's, who, quite often, are in the position to tell prospective postdocs, "if you want the privilege of working for me, I expect you to bring your own funding.""

    Which is probably the way it should be.

  • Crystal Voodoo says:

    @jmz4gtu

    "...as opposed to slogging it out for the 5 generally seems to be required to maneuver into a faculty gig."

    5 years? Haahahahahahahaaaaa. *wipes tears from eyes* More like 8-10 unless you are lucky enough to get a K99 and even that isn't a guaranteed job.

  • Amboceptor says:

    -Anecdotally, this feels like the most likely explanation, along with people feeling more comfortable bailing on a postdoc after 2-3 years, as opposed to slogging it out for the 5 generally seems to be required to maneuver into a faculty gig.

    That sounds about right. "Postdoc" is what you do after graduate school when you're figuring out how to get a real job and you still enjoy getting credit for things in the form of authorships.

    Alternately, maybe the average # of years is decreasing because it includes a lot of people who "postdoc" for 1 year in the same lab where they got their PhD, to finish things off, which seems to be standard in a lot of places.

  • Gary McDowell says:

    The somehow retrospective gumption that postdocs have developed aside, the 2/3 decrease in postdoc job advertisements in Science from 2007-11 was a warning sign that academia clearly missed.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    How do you mean, Gary? Are you saying the reduction in advertisements was because getting a postdoc became so easy due to the oversupply?

  • jmz4gtu says:

    " Haahahahahahahaaaaa. *wipes tears from eyes* More like 8-10 unless you are lucky enough to get a K99 and even that isn't a guaranteed job."
    -If you're more than 6 years past your terminal degree I think you'd be incredibly foolish to try to start looking for a tenure track position, since you'll be past your ESI status by the time you get your lab set up and ready to submit RPGs. In this funding climate, that's seems like a pretty sure death sentence for the lab.

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