A 10-Step Plan for Better Postdoc Training

The research environment has evolved; it's time for the postdoctoral experience to do the same

The Postdoctoral Fellows Focus Group
Jan 1, 2006

It used to be that the postdoctoral years were a bridge to permanent tenure-track employment. For some, that's still true, and by working with established scientists, all US and Canadian postdocs are still getting quality research training. But such training isn't enough to make postdocs competitive for permanent employment, given the growth of research positions in industry and in nonresearch career options. Because the number of students pursuing a PhD has grown while the number of academic positions has not kept pace, the percentage of PhDs pursuing academic research careers has dropped significantly. Fewer than one-third of postdocs will end up in an academic, tenure-track research position.1,2

<figcaption> Credit: Copyright Tipp Howell/Getty Images</figcaption>
Credit: Copyright Tipp Howell/Getty Images

Despite the fact that most of them will not become academic faculty, postdocs are often uninformed about their career options, and their training may neglect essential, nonresearch skills such as public speaking and grantsmanship. Indeed,...

Members of the Working Group

» Robert Harper-Mangels, Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience, Chicago

» Sid Breman, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

» Jacqui Brinkman, James Hogg iCAPTURE Center for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Research, St. Paul's Hospital, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

» Erika Gonzalez-Lima, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin

» Elaine Oliverio, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh

» Deborah Swope, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), Research Triangle Park, NC (Dr. Swope's views are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the NIH or the US government.)


1. M.C. Regets, "What follows the postdoctorate experience? Employment patterns of 1993 postdocs in 1995," NSF Issue Brief 99?307, 1998, www.nsf.gov/statistics/issuebrf/sib99307.htm 2. E.M. Stricker, "The 2003 ANDP survey of neuroscience graduate, postdoctoral, and undergraduate programs," FASEB J, 17:2169?73, 2003. 3. G. Davis, "Doctors without orders: Highlights of the Sigma Xi postdoc survey," Am Scientist, 93(Suppl):4, 2005. 4. National Research Council, Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1998.

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