Tale of two surveys

Two surveys unveiled at the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) annual meeting in San Diego this month showed progress for postdocs on issues of salary and job satisfaction. But they also highlighted current problems, and indicated storm clouds on the horizon.

The first survey, conducted by Sigma Xi, in conjunction with the NPA, showed that 40% of the 7,600 postdocs questioned earned an average stipend of US$38,000 — up from $28,000 in 1995. Physicists populated the higher end of the pay scale and ecologists the lower, but the majority of them expressed positive job satisfaction. The bad news comes from the postdocs who received their PhDs outside the United States — on average, they worked more hours and published more papers, but were on the lower end of the pay scale. And there were concerns about visas, with 30% of foreign postdocs saying national-security issues affected their research and 57% saying that security regulations made it harder to re-enter the United States.

The other survey, by chemist Joseph Cerny at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at how nuclear chemists and nuclear physicists viewed their training five and ten years after receiving their doctorates. The good news is that almost all were glad they did a PhD. The bad news is that only a third ended up working in the kind of job they had anticipated. And the trouble on the horizon? It was the quality of mentoring that led people to the wrong job, many respondents said. Furthermore, says Cerny, the time to tenure in some disciplines, especially biochemistry, is getting longer, and prospects may be even worse for oversubscribed disciplines such as molecular biology.

Still, postdocs everywhere can rejoice that these surveys have become public — and hope that they effect changes for the better.

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  1. Naturejobs editor

    • Paul Smaglik

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Smaglik, P. Tale of two surveys. Nature 434, 539 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7032-539a

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