National Academies Report Urges Significant Reforms to Postdoctoral Training

By | December 18, 2014

By Yvette Seger

On December 10, the National Academies’ Committee to Review the State of Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers released its report and recommendations to improve the postdoctoral training system in the United States (U.S.) Building upon the findings of several other groups, including those of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director Biomedical Workforce Task Force, The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited identifies five key areas that require the development of significant policy changes and identification of best practices.

Recommendations include limiting postdoctoral appointments to no more than five years; applying the term “postdoctoral researcher” to individuals receiving significant advanced research training; increasing awareness of the breadth of career opportunities available to PhD-trained scientists; raising the starting salary for NIH National Research Service Award postdoctoral fellowships to $50,000; and supporting strategies to improve access to research mentors and mentoring resources. The report also reiterates the need to curate data on the postdoctoral population, with a special emphasis on tracking career outcomes. Within these broad recommendations are specific actions for institutions, funding agencies, and professional societies. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology will determine ways in which its 27 member societies can continue to enhance resources for career development and mentoring, as well as collect data on career outcomes for postdoctoral researchers in experimental biology, through its Training and Career Opportunities Subcommittee.

Although the current report focuses on critical flaws in postdoctoral training, the authors also noted several key areas of progress. Many research institutions across the U.S. now support specific offices to provide resources to postdoctoral researchers. The establishment of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) in 2003 is likewise mentioned as a success story. Recognized as a key stakeholder in the development of policies to improve the postdoc experience, the NPA’s mission builds upon many of the recommendations in the report.