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Disappearing Postdocs

The number of postdoctoral researchers in biological and medical sciences has fallen, according to an analysis appearing in the FASEB Journal.

Between 1979 and 2010, the number of new postdocs increased annually, but a trio of researchers that included the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's Howard Garrison found that, starting in 2010, the number of postdocs at doctoral degree-granting institutions began to decline.

Garrison and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Science Foundation Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates to find that the postdoc population decreased from 40,970 in 2010 to 38,719 in 2013 — a 5.5 percent drop.

"We'd been watching these data for thirty years and they just kept going up. When I saw it go down, the first year, I thought it was a blip. But three years in a row of steady decreases seems to be an unprecedented situation," Garrison tells Nature News.

This shift, the researchers say, appears to be due to both fewer graduate students seeking postdoc positions and more postdocs are leaving such positions, as the length of postdoc training appears to be shortening.

At Nature News, Garrison also ties the drop to decreased spending by the US National Institutes of Health, as he notes that number of NIH grants fell in 2011 and 2012.

"For some newly minted PhD students, eschewing a postdoc may reflect a rational response to a tight academic labor market with low compensation and uncertain prospects for success," Garrison adds in a statement.

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