CAREER BRIEF

Support for US postdocs is growing slowly

Report from National Postdoctoral Association highlights progress and pain points.

Academic institutions in the United States have helped to improve life for postdoctoral researchers but changes are still needed, according to a 3 January report from the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) in Rockville, Maryland, which represents postdocs in the United States and Canada.

Supporting the Needs of Postdocs recommends that postdocs receive higher compensation, equal benefits regardless of how a researcher is classified or funded, and more-generous parental leave.

The report collated results from a 2016 survey completed by 102 of the 190 institutional NPA members that maintain a postdoctoral office on campus. The survey results, published in partnership with Sigma Xi, a researcher association in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, indicate that 94% of member institutions require that new postdocs and other recruits learn about appointment policies and resources, and that 85% of institutions have an orientation programme that outlines services and amenities available to postdocs.

Postdoc pay rates, however, are less consistent across member institutions, despite federal legislation passed in 2016 that compels employers to either raise the minimum salary for all US hourly workers to US$47,476 a year or offer overtime pay. Survey responses indicate that 77% of institutions pay that rate or are raising their minimum compensation to that level. Just 36% of institutions require annual stipend increases, 43% recommend it and 21% have no policy on the matter, the report says.

Most postdocs receive health-insurance benefits and paid time off, but postdocs who have their own funding often lose access to institutional benefits. This is a continuing point of contention, and the NPA urges institutions to address it.

The report recommends that institutions determine postdoc needs more effectively by gathering information on diversity, disability and disadvantaged backgrounds. It also calls for universities to maintain contact with postdocs after they leave, so as to develop a comprehensive alumni network and to track career pathways. Currently, 45% of institutions carry out exit surveys, and 28% track their postdocs after they leave the institution.

Since 2000, various societies and organizations have published reports on the importance of postdoctoral researchers to the US scientific enterprise and how postdoctoral training can be improved.

Nature 553, 369 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-00559-8
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