Policy ForumSCI POLICY

Why pursue the postdoc path?

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Science  06 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6286, pp. 663-664
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2061

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Concerns have been raised about labor market imbalances that see a growing number of postdoctoral researchers pursuing a limited number of faculty positions (14). Proposed demand-side solutions include capping the duration of postdoc training or hiring more permanent staff scientists (1, 4, 5). Others focus on the supply side, arguing that Ph.D.'s need better information about labor market conditions and nonacademic career options (4, 6, 7). Unfortunately, it is not clear why Ph.D. students pursue postdoc positions and how their plans depend on individual-level factors, such as career goals or labor market perceptions. We describe evidence of a “default” postdoc and of “holding patterns” that suggest a need for increased attention to career planning among students, their mentors, graduate schools, and funders.