Scientists & Societies

Protecting the public investment

The training of young US scientists as they move through the academic system is supported by an investment of limited public funds from government and private foundations. As a US taxpayer, I want to be assured that this investment is recruiting the highest level of talent and providing the best training environment for our future scientific leaders.

As a postdoc, I see great potential for improving the return on this investment. It is the responsibility of the whole scientific community to take action to ensure that postdoc training is as good as it can be. Numerous groups and individuals have defined steps that could be taken, including increasing postdoc productivity and creativity by improving mentoring and professional development programmes; recruiting and retaining the highest level of talent by boosting the compensation and benefit packages to meet the needs of our maturing postdoc population; and restoring the motivation of postdocs who feel uncertain about their future by improving career-development training. Unless we address such issues, we risk losing our brightest and best to other enterprises.

All levels of the scientific community must come together to improve and enhance postdoctoral training. To aid this process, the US National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) will bring representatives from all levels of the community together at its second annual meeting on 16–17 April in Washington DC. The common theme for the meeting is the responsibilities and actions — at various levels, including individual, institutional and national agency or association — for improving postdoc training. The meeting aims to pool resources, develop collaborative strategies, and enhance the interaction of the NPA with the broader scientific community. This should help to protect the public investment and continue to move the scientific community beyond the nebulous concept of ‘fair’ or ‘we deserve it’ to one of shared responsibility.

The meeting coincides with the Convocation on Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience, which will review the status of US postdocs. Hopefully, these meetings will mean that in years to come, the postdoctoral experience will be such that we readily retain the brightest and the best.

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Wendell, S. Scientists & Societies. Nature 427, 762 (2004).

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