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Academic ecosystems must evolve to support a sustainable postdoc workforce

Abstract

The postdoctoral workforce comprises a growing proportion of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) community, and plays a vital role in advancing science. Postdoc professional development, however, remains rooted in outdated realities. We propose enhancements to postdoc-centred policies and practices to better align this career stage with contemporary job markets and work life. By facilitating productivity, wellness and career advancement, the proposed changes will benefit all stakeholders in postdoc success—including research teams, institutions, professional societies and the scientific community as a whole. To catalyse reform, we outline recommendations for (1) skills-based training tailored to the current career landscape, and (2) supportive policies and tools outlined in postdoc handbooks. We also invite the ecology and evolution community to lead further progressive reform.

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Fig. 1: The training of a growing postdoc workforce is poorly aligned with the current career landscape.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in the published Perspective (and its Supplementary Information files).

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Acknowledgements

This publication is dedicated to the memory of the co-authors’ dear colleague, mentor, and friend Shengpan Lin. Funding was provided in part by the National Science Foundation (Cooperative Agreement no. DBI-0939454), the Swiss National Science Foundation (Early Postdoc Mobility Fellowship no. P2SKP3_184052 to M.Å.), the James S. McDonnell Foundation (Postdoctoral Fellowship Award Studying Complex Systems to H.F.M.) and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant no. 799025 to K.J.M.). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of any of the funding agencies listed above.

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All authors contributed to the writing of this piece (M.Å., N.E., B.J.M.J., K.J.M., H.F.M., N.M., J.G.P., J.S., A.W.T., A.R.W., K.M.Y., E.R.Z. and E.G.). The project was designed by E.G. and led by E.G., M.Å. and N.E. M.Å. and N.E. contributed equally to this work, E.G. is the senior author and all other authors are listed in alphabetical order.

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Correspondence to Eben Gering.

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Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Fig. 1.

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Ålund, M., Emery, N., Jarrett, B.J.M. et al. Academic ecosystems must evolve to support a sustainable postdoc workforce. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 777–781 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1178-6

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