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After the Postdoc

Postdoc positions are supposed to be temporary jobs that give newly minted PhDs more experience to embark on their solo careers, but increasingly new investigators are going from postdoc to postdoc, getting ready for an academic job that may not materialize, NPR's Richard Harris reports.

The system of, say, 10 postdocs being trained by one professor isn't sustainable, according to Keith Micoli at New York University Medical Center. "You can't have one manager training 10 subordinates who think they are all going to take over that boss' position someday. That's mathematically impossible," he says.

But researchers like Vanessa Hubbard-Lucey are hopeful, Harris says. Hubbard-Lucey has a PhD and is working in an NYU lab studying inflammatory bowel disease. She tells Harris that she hopes that the project she is working on now will go well, be published, and land her at least an interview for an academic spot.

"I'm sort of at the point where I'm hopeful that my paper's going to go in and it's going to get published," she says, "and at least I'll have something to show for it."

Harris notes that though there are limited academic slots for postdocs, there are jobs for biomedical researchers in industry, consulting, government, and elsewhere — few biomedical researchers are unemployed.

A few months after he first spoke with Hubbard-Lucey, she got a job at a nonprofit cancer center, Harris adds. It's not quite what she'd imagined she'd be doing, but she says she's happy with her new path.