Magazine article Science News

Postdocs Warrant More Status and Support

Magazine article Science News

Postdocs Warrant More Status and Support

Article excerpt

For a growing number of researchers, attaining a Ph.D. represents only a first step toward a career garnering respect and financial health. Before their first job, many will toil for 5 years or more as postdoctoral scholars to gain further training or learn a new specialty.

Unfortunately, their vague status--not faculty, staff, or student--can leave these so-called postdocs vulnerable to poor pay, little mentoring, and slow advancement toward the skills they seek, according to a report issued this week by the National Research Council (NRC) in Washington.

Some 52,000 of these postdocs currently serve at U.S. institutions. Harvard University--with 3,400 postdocs--is among the institutions where such apprentice researchers now outnumber graduate students. Though most postdocs are at least 32 years old, the report finds that they usually earn just $30,000 a year. A person the same age but holding only a bachelor's degree makes, on average, some $5,000 more. Data also indicate that about half of the postdocs have children--yet few receive medical coverage for themselves, much less their families.

Even so, postdocs perform valuable work. Increasingly, they carry out most of the day-to-day research in many laboratories, the NRC panel discovered. Though many have positive research experiences, "we also learned about postdocs who are neglected, even exploited, while making creative and fundamental contributions," notes NRC panel chairman Maxine F. …

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