Improving the postdoc experience

Several groups, including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, have been discussing methods to improve funding, training and sustainability of the research enterprise. The focus of this sustainability work has been on improving the postdoctoral experience. Several weeks ago, the Future of Research, a Boston-area group of postdocs, published a paper summarizing their work on improvements that could be made to benefit postdocs. And just last week, the National Academies issued a report that makes several recommendations for improving postdoc training. The ASBMB summarized the National Academies report here.

The National Academies and the FoR each made some unique recommendations. For example, the National Academies suggested that universities limit postdoc positions to only five years. This restriction is already in place at some universities. The Academies report suggested making this limitation universal; however, the report did not recommend a mechanism for enforcement. The FoR suggested institutions and funding agencies work to limit the number of junior scientists that any one lab head can train. Institutions could do this voluntarily, but it is not clear if federal agencies have the authority to regulate this.

That said, the National Academies and the FoR agreed on most of their recommendations. Among these was securing better pay and benefits for postdocs, enhancing career training and improving mentorship. These issues are similar to recommendations made by the NIH when it analyzed the biomedical workforce.

This level of agreement among senior members of the scientific community, federal funding agencies and postdocs is important for improving the sustainability of the research enterprise. Consensus around these topics provides a platform for the ASBMB to advocate for the implementation of several of these recommendations in 2015. Follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter as more and more groups begin talking about the sustainability of the research enterprise.

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