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Hard Work, Low Pay

US postdocs are "overworked, poorly paid, and stuck in jobs that don't advance their careers," writes Audrey Williams June at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine further finds that there are few incentives for the system to change.

"There is this sense that we have serious problems that need to be addressed," Weill Cornell Medical College's Gregory Petsko, who chaired the committee that wrote the report, tells the Chronicle.

Though there is a paucity of data collected on postdocs, what the group pulled together indicates that some changes in the treatment of postdocs have occurred since its 2000 report. For example, the report notes that a number of universities and funding agencies have created offices of postdoctoral affairs. Additionally, the National Science Foundation now requires that research proposals that include hiring a postdoc have to include a mentoring plan.

Going forward, the report calls for additional changes. For instance, it says that postdocs should receive $50,000 in salary that is adjusted each year for inflation and that the length of postdoc positions should be capped at five years.

The report also notes that, based on their career objectives, not every PhD recipient needs to pursue a postdoc position.

"The knee-jerk reaction for a lot of people is to go get a postdoc," Petsko adds at the Chronicle. "But the purpose of the postdoc should be for advanced training in research for those careers where advanced training in research is needed. There are plenty of scientific careers — science journalism, science policy, patent attorney—where you don't need to do a postdoc."