The Problem with Postdocs

The problem with postdocs

Bryan Turner seeks solutions to the issues researchers face beyond doctorate level

The Biologist Vol 60(4) p9

Postdoctoral researchers, or postdocs, are a crucial component of successful research groups and an indispensable part of the UK's research community.

A typical university-based group contains technicians, postgraduate students and postdocs, all on short-term contracts, and funded by grants, to an academic leading the team, the principal investigator (PI). Short-term contracts for postdoctoral researchers provide a cost-effective means of generating experimental data. Until recently, career progression has been a secondary concern, if it is considered at all. By the end of their second contract (typically three years each) most postdocs will be in their early 30s, possibly with children, a mortgage and other responsibilities.

They must then confront the fact that there are not enough positions in academia for them all to be employed as PIs. The usual rule of thumb (with no reliable figures available), is that only about one in 10 postdocs will go on to become a PI. In other words, a large proportion will fail to achieve their chosen career objective...


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