The Post Doc Problem

Anyone working in science at the moment will know that the academic career ladder is becoming increasingly difficult to climb, as positions become fewer and the pressure for results gets more intense. The number of students undertaking PhDs is growing, but postdoc positions are increasingly insecure and are more often than not leading to careers outside of academia through no other reason than the lack of opportunity to move up. Without landing yourself top world-leading publications, you simply can’t get that lecturing position or assistant professorship, and researchers are finding themselves trapped in permanent postdoc positions.

This article, published in Nature, explores this problem, and what may be done to help postdoc researchers and reward them for their hard work and level of expertise.

It certainly makes for concerning reading. Scientists around the world are finding themselves driven out of academia because their career prospects, salaries and job security are being squeezed until they simply can’t take it any longer. PIs are being forced to rely on a large number of low-paid trainees and graduate students to get results, as they simply aren’t given the funding to pay for experienced postdocs who would undoubtedly do a better job. Well-trained postdocs with valuable expertise aren’t being rewarded for their hard work.

Many institutions are attempting to battle this by limiting postdoc contract lengths, with the hope that this will encourage career development and progression through the academic profession, but will this really help? Will this simply lower the level of job security available to postdoc workers, forcing them out into other jobs as they seek competitive salaries and security in their working lives?

I have witnessed the drop-out from academia personally throughout my time as a PhD student, and can see the appeal in a better paid, secure career which doesn’t involve constantly scrabbling for external funding and watching the clock tick down to the unavoidable job search at the end of a short-term contract. Many universities want to keep postdocs on in permanent staff positions, but simply cannot provide the funding, and so many talented individuals are being lost, and science and research as a whole are missing out.

One thing we can all agree on is that something needs to happen to prevent us from driving out skilled researchers whose contributions to the scientific community may be lost forever.


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