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Take Care of the Postdocs

Because of decreased funding, postdocs in the US are having a hard time finding permanent jobs, writes Muhammad Ahmed, a postdoc at the University of Florida, writes in an opinion piece at The Scientist. Further, as PIs bend to the pressure of chasing high-impact papers and large grants, Ahmed adds that the training of postdocs often falls to the wayside. But, he adds, along the way, US postdocs increasingly benefit from postdoc offices at their institutions and the influence of the National Postdoctoral Association

Conversely in China, investment in R&D has increased, Ahmed writes, but he adds that researchers there complain of insufficient mentoring during their training and as they become PIs. At the same time, he notes that there is no infrastructure in place to help postdocs deal with the challenges they encounter.

He and his colleagues surveyed postdocs, the amount of R&D funding, and number of publications in the US and China, and they found that these three factors are entwined. Between 1993 and 2012 in the US, the number of postdocs didn't change while federal funding decreased and the number of papers published a year has remained about the same. During that period in China, the number of postdocs increased each year as government funding increased about 18.7 percent a year and the number of papers published dramatically increased.

To stay at the top of their research games, Ahmed advises both the US and China to invest in their postdocs. "China must direct more funds toward increasing postdoc stipends and improving the quality of research training, and the US needs an influx of financial support, along with maintenance of current postdoc standards," he says. If they don't, they run the risk of driving people away from research, Ahmed adds.