New Report Looks at Structural Barriers to Postdoctoral Scholar Success

February 6, 2023

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Title: Postdoctoral Barriers to Success

Source: National Postdoctoral Association

Postdoctoral scholars, commonly referred to as “postdocs,” are relied on to fulfill over 70,000 critical research and scientific positions across academia, government, and industry in the U.S. In exchange for providing cutting-edge expertise and skills, postdocs are promised “mentored training” to make them more competitive and successful in their future careers. However, a recent report from the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) found postdoctoral scholars are facing structural issues within their positions resulting in “some negative impact” on their personal and professional lives.

In fall 2022, NPA surveyed its membership, composed of postdoctoral scholars employed at over 80 percent of R1 universities in the United States, on their postdoctoral experiences. Three hundred and sixty-six postdocs, including 239 international postdocs, responded to questions on the negative impact of postdoctoral employment elements (e.g., compensation, role, responsibilities, career trajectory, organizational status, funding sources, and workspaces).

Overall, 80 percent of postdoctoral respondents shared their positions had “some negative impact” on their lives with compensation and lack of clarity on career trajectory as the greatest sources of stress on postdoctoral scholars’ personal and professional lives. Key findings include:

  • Approximately 95 percent indicate compensation or salary had some negative impact, with approximately 65 percent reporting a high level of negative impact—the greatest percentage of high-level impact across the report’s indicators.
  • Approximately 90 percent report a lack of clarity on career trajectory or how to transition from postdoctoral to faculty work.
  • Approximately 87 percent identify both confusion over their duration of employment as a postdoc and job security as sources of stress in their personal and professional lives.
  • Approximately 82 percent cite decreased funding for their position.

These findings point to areas in need of improvement within the postdoctoral position construct to continue to attract and retain strong candidates in these critical, knowledge-producing roles.

To read the full report, please click here.

—Alyssa Stefanese Yates

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