Study recommends changes to postdoctoral science positions

phys.org | 1/10/2017 | Staff
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Federal research agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, tout postdoctoral positions as valuable training for those pursuing for scientific careers.

However, a new study by Boston University and University of Kansas researchers has found that postdoc jobs don't yield a positive return in the labor market, and that these positions likely cost graduates roughly three years worth of salary in their first 15 years of their careers.

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"Biomedical scientists require postdocs in order to do the work of science. However, the postdoc only prepares students for academic careers—jobs that are very difficult to come by," said Donna Ginther, KU professor of economics. "Ours is the first study to document the opportunity cost of taking a postdoc on the subsequent career outcomes of former postdocs. We show that the cost in terms of foregone earnings is very high. Most postdocs would be better off if they took jobs when they completed their degrees."

Ginther and co-author Shulamit Kahn, associate professor Boston University Questrom School of Business, had their findings "The impact of postdoctoral training on early careers in biomedicine" published Tuesday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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The researchers said several of their findings challenge published assertions about recent trends in postdoctoral positions because their paper compared later careers of biomedical PhDs who had postdoc experience and those who didn't. They examined biennial longitudinal data from the 1981 to 2013 waves of the National Science Foundation Survey of Doctorate Recipients matched to the 1980-2013 NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates.

They found of people who started in postdoc positions, the median annual starting salary during their first four years after earning their doctorate was $44,724 in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, compared with $73,662 for...
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