Glut Of Postdoc Researchers Stirs Quiet Crisis In Science

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

Postdoctoral researcher (or postdoc) positions have greatly changed the past few decades.  Postdocs are meant for people to gain additional research experience after completing their PhD before applying for their next job (they often have goals of becoming a professor).   They usually are not paid well (with average salaries in the $40,000s, which is not what most college graduates are even aiming for), and because of this, they can provide well-trained cheap labor to a professor or senior scientist.  Postdocs now are working for much longer in their positions than they did a few decades ago in order to be competitive for the very few faculty positions that open up each year.  In fact, for the few that become tenured faculty, they don’t receive major federal funding for their research until they are, on average, 42 years old, while in 1970 they received the same funding at an average of 34 years of age. One reason these things are happening is that universities are accepting many more PhD students than they used to, and they are then flooding the job market when they are done.  There aren’t enough professor positions for the fraction of PhDs that would like them, but there are quite a few postdoc positions.

The postdoc “crisis” is finally starting to be discussed.  The National Academy of Sciences will soon release a report on the state of postdocs, and postdocs recently organized a conference in Boston on the future of research for people like them.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.