NextGen Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer this question:

Is the idea of the postdoc position obsolete in today's scientific landscape?

In the 3 July 2015 issue, we ran excerpts from 23 of the many interesting responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 23 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the best of the other submissions we received (ordered alphabetically by author name).

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(Can't get enough NextGen? See the results of previous surveys at Future of a Generation, Definition of Success, Experiences that Changed Us, Big Ideas, Experiments in Governing, Science Communication's Future, Science Time Travel, Work-Life Balance, Enduring Ideas, Science Advocacy, Science Ethics, Global Collaboration, Missing Classes, and Tools for the Future)

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Essays in print

Postdoctoral scientists are far from being obsolete; rather they are the drivers of research. They made it through a Kryptonian Ph.D. thesis and emerged ever-more-powerful and fearless to continue in science. They act as mentors and as students. They constitute the chain link between the "drowning under grant deadlines, conference talks, endless responsibilities" stressed-out professor and the "desperate to finally finish his Ph.D. and get out of here" stressed-out Ph.D. student. They think of projects, perform experiments, analyze data, and write papers. They generate beautiful hypotheses, as well as the ugly data that annihilate these same hypotheses. They represent the glimpse of hope for a brighter future of more truth and less manipulation, more science and less politics, more collaboration and less competition, more outreach toward a scientifically informed society. They stand in a limbo state: They have already committed themselves to science, but the science world has not committed to them. Above lie the reasons why postdocs are being paid well, are respected by his superiors, and have a brilliant future in front of them. Well, the sole thing I would change regarding the postdoc position would be to make the previous sentence true.
Nikolaos Konstantinides
Department of Biology, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA.
E-mail: nk1845{at}

There should be no postdoc positions. Recent graduates should be able to compete directly for full-time research and faculty positions. It's absurd to expect an individual with a Ph.D. to work into their mid- to late 30s without full employment benefits at income levels that are often well below the median levels for their area. The current system does not offer fair compensation at precisely the time that one needs to start and support a family. The average number of years spent working as a postdoc is 5; the average number of years spent at any job in the United States is also 5. Why is the postdoc neither fully compensated nor fully employed?
Christina Dinkins
Bethesda, MD 20892 USA.
E-mail: senadinkins{at}

If anything, the concept of a grad student is obsolete. We do not need Ph.D.s anymore. Once upon a time, pre-Internet age, Ph.D.s were rare and conferred expertise, recognition, and prestige. This is no longer the case. There are Ph.D.s everywhere now and people are ranked according to publications anyway. So why bother with the the Ph.D. system? It is quite simply outdated and should be replaced with a system that allows researchers with Bachelor's or Master's degrees to be free agents in host labs. Example of how the free agent system would work: After completing a Bachelor's/Master's, prospective researchers should be able to join an academic lab or company. They will aim to develop a project where they can publish excellent papers. They can leave any time or switch labs/institutions without penalty. Having published well, they can move to a second lab to prove themselves once more. If producing excellent publications again, they can decide to apply for faculty. Alternatively, they may move to a third lab for more experience and take an independent decision when they think they offer the full package as a faculty candidate. The emphasis would be shifted towards shorter, higher-impact stints, with a focus on tangible achievements rather than going through the motions of a linear, inflexible system. The free-agent system would be more dynamic and eliminate the postdoc problem. It would also force academic research to be more competitive in terms of pay, conditions, and personal development.
Martin P. Stewart
Department of Chemical Engineering and Koch Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
E-mail: martstew{at}

The goal of any academic career track after the Ph.D. should be to prepare a researcher for a leadership research position. Whether it means a PI or a professor, the training up until one reaches that position should prepare him or her to independently select and explore scientific conquests, manage people in doing that, and acquire funds to enable them. This means that there exists a period of transition to independence where a young Ph.D. has to be exposed to the circumstances and mentoring they need in order to acquire the necessary skills to continue independently. Currently, postdocs apply for positions in the labs of tenured PIs, where their primary work includes pursuing research topics assigned to them by their superior, managing students, preparing project proposals, and applying for grants within the PI's field. Although the specific tasks a postdoc should perform vary between countries and especially PIs, I consider this 1 to 3 year position in general okay. However, in order to facilitate more independence in postdocs, I would propose the following: These postdoc positions should be financed directly from the government or university, and not through PIs. Some countries and universities, in some respects, provide such instruments. This would allow for the postdocs to (i) at least partially pursue their own scientific questions, (ii) try working under more than a single PI and therefore experience different managerial practices, and (iii) see whether independent research suits them. The last is especially important, because setting your own scientific goals is much more difficult than following someone else's.
Jernej Zupanc
Seyens Ltd., Ljubljana, 1000, Slovenia.
E-mail: jernej.zupanc{at}

In many labs, postdocs have responsibilities quite similar to graduate students, which limits the contribution of the postdoc position to the maturity required for the next step. In my point of view, a 1-year pre-assistant professor position could replace the postdoc position. The postdoc would be offered a small lab area and university funds to lead a small group of jointly supervised graduate students who are interested in the proposal topic. Applying for external funding and being fully responsible for a small lab model would not only help the postdoc to mature for his next career step as an assistant professor, but would stimulate new avenues of research for graduate students.
Esraa Elsanadidy
Department of Chemistry, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA and Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Tanta University, Tanta, Egypt.
E-mail: Esraa_Elsanadidy{at}

I don't quite understand what you mean with "idea of the postdoc".We need to create clearer career paths, and the postdoc position, or whatever you want to call it of course, plays a role in that. Today, the postdoc is just associated with the normal insecure job that is prevalent in academia after the completion of a Ph.D. The saturation of Ph.D.'s and young postdocs, with little-to-no outlook for any kind of job security, creates a system with too much competition for too few positions in a field which cannot compete at all with the private sector. If we want to continue to substantially overproduce Ph.D.s, we need to create clear career paths, not only within academia (and prepare people to compete for those jobs outside academia). Alternatively, we need to start funding people, and not only projects. Today, funding agencies are giving money for projects. This creates a situation in which people continuously have to move to their next project, putting strain on relationships and families. Most of my colleagues, including those over 30, are either single, in temporary relationships, or in long-distance relationships. Very few have families. Is this the system we want to support, where there is only room for those willing to sacrifice everything to keep a low-paying job, without any job security whatsoever and the need to move every 2 to 4 years?
Magnus V. Persson
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, Leiden, 2333CA, Netherlands.

The biggest change would be to give credit to postdocs when they significantly contribute to writing and preparating grants that are awarded to the laboratory Principal Investigator. Under the current system, if a postdoc substantially contributes with experiments and grant writing for a grant that is awarded to the PI, he/she benefits from the experience (especially if the postdoc is pursuing an academic position) and in securing funds for the lab. Beyond that, the postdoc should receive credit, via CV or Biosketch, for contributions made to the grant. It would also be beneficial for a postdoc who is transitioning to be able to take a portion of funds from grants to which he/she contributed substantially.
Bernardo A. Mainou
Department of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37211, USA.
E-mail: bernardo.mainou{at}

Postdoctoral positions play an important role as a transition after pursuing a doctoral degree, yet they should not be a permanent status for anybody. We need to rethink the way society can take the maximum advantage from the people most highly trained in their field of research, and this won't happen while having these people conducting research that has been created by Senior Scientists. Creativity is crucial in science; therefore young scientists should be exposed to an open arena, where their ideas are not constrained, guided, or limited by the structure of well-established research groups. Surely, this might be uncomfortable due to a natural fear to the unknown, yet challenging and fruitful in the long term. Research institutions should create positions for young scientists without expecting them to join a given research group. This would create new research areas for the institution, and push new scientists to be more effective while fighting to get their own funding for research and equipment. On the other hand, there are plenty of resources not being used at research institutions. Not being confined by the limits of a research group would push scientist to make a better use of those resources as well.
Nicolas Bambach
Biomicrometeorology Group, Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.
E-mail: nbambach{at}

In my opinion, the postdoc position can never be obsolete. As a postdoc at Stanford, I have witnessed that all work and publications that amounted from this work essentially was generated by postdocs. Every PI has been able to build their reputation purely on the achievements of postdocs, because they represent the most skilled, cheap labor force/source. From the point of view of a postdoc, it's the most challenging time in trying to build a base for one's interests, publish, and most important, be able to walk that tightrope of what can be taken with them and what the PI would like to retain in the lab to set boundaries. Since most postdocs are invariably at the mercy of the instructor in terms of funding, essentially it is the PI who sets the rules and retains most of the material generated by the postdoc. To give the postdoc more autonomy, I would strongly recommend that there be more funding opportunities that allow for postdocs to be more in charge of their projects and what they would like to pursue. This also serves as training to be able to manage money and plan experiments according to a fixed budget.
Suchitra D. Gopinath
Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), NCR Biotech Science Cluster, Faridabad, 121001, India.
E-mail: sgopinath{at}

I think the idea of a postdoc is a great way to transition into leadership positions after graduate school. However, I think there need to be different kinds of postdocs available for each career track. We need more postdoc positions to help recent graduates transition into industry research, teaching, or administrative positions.
Kierstyn Schwartz
Working Bugs, LLC, East Lansing, MI 48823, USA.
E-mail: kierstyn.schwartz{at}

The postdoc employment should have a very concrete purpose agreed upon before the start. For example: "I want to be ready to join a certain branch of industry," "I want to be able to lead a team and raise funds," or "I want to become a great tutor/teacher." A grant-giving institution would then limit the number of postdocs with each goal according to market demand (for example, 50% for the industry goal, 30% for the team lead goal, and 20% for the teacher goal). At the end of the postdoc period, the success should be evaluated and if the goal was not reached consequences would follow; the university would have to pay the past postoc salary from its own money, or future grant money would be reduced.
Michael Böttger
SKF, Department of Technology and Solutions, Steyr, 4401, Austria.
E-mail: michael.boettger{at}

With an increasing number of Ph.D. graduates aiming to pursue non-academic career tracks, there is an urgent need to revamp the traditional postdoc position, the majority of which do not prepare graduates for jobs outside academia. A systemic integration of career support into Ph.D. programs in all universities is critical to ensure that maximum returns are channeled from the national investment in graduate education. An experiential 1-year career-rotation program (not unlike first-year lab rotations) should follow graduation. Ph.D. graduates would have the opportunity to pursue three to four internships in different settings that value a terminal degree in their field of study. Examples of organizations for which the graduates might intern include science societies, policy think-tanks, law firms, regulatory affairs teams, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and biotech start-ups. The graduates could be placed in these internships through a matching process facilitated by the university and funded by stakeholders in the process. Such a transition program would be transformative for the educational ecosystem because it would help students identify and gain a foothold in the career track of their choice, allow employers access to a pool of highly qualified job candidates, and help participating universities bolster their student success metrics.
Meera Govindaraghavan
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA.
E-mail: govind.meera{at}

No more than two postdocs for a given person, up to 3 years each, should be allowed. This would force universities to hire people more permanently after this maximum 6-year period rather than exploiting them with numerous postdocs.
Maciej Bilicki
Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, NL-2333 CA Leiden, Netherlands.
E-mail: bilicki{at}

If by "postdoc," we mean a 2- to 3-year research position meant exclusively as a bridge between the Ph.D. program and a professorship, then I think the postdoc is obsolete. I would make two changes to improve it: (i) Make postdocs into permanent, non-faculty positions. Both individuals and institutions would benefit. A scientist who has to reapply for his/her job every 2 to 3 years—especially if that means moving to a new institution—has much less time to develop expertise in their area. Permanent postdoctoral, non-faculty positions not only allow researchers to become greater experts, but also enable institutions to develop higher levels of expertise in a certain area, instead of dealing with almost constant employee turnover. Everybody benefits from this. (ii) Remove the stigma associated with the postdoc—i.e., the idea that if you postdoc for more than 3 years you must not be faculty material. The old career model, where nearly every Ph.D. eventually ends up in a faculty position, is long dead. So why treat postdocs like lepers if they take more than 3 years to discover something exciting enough to rocket them into a faculty position?
Lisa Neef
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel, Kiel, 24116, Germany.
E-mail: lneef{at}

The postdoctoral period is more essential than ever for providing sufficient experience to prepare young scientists for independent research careers, and for identifying promising individuals. The problem is that the postdoc is currently an open-ended and unregulated career stage. This situation leaves young scientists exposed, because investigators at all levels need lots of active postdocs for their labs to be competitive. Academic science has accidentally evolved into a pyramid structure, where the vast majority of postdocs cannot expect to find long-term sustainable careers. Those who do survive this process are selected for on their short-term competitiveness and ability to survive under these conditions. This has created an environment of anxiety and malaise, which is clearly detrimental to science. The obvious solution would be to severely reduce the number of postdocs hired, and the number of graduate students admitted. However, doing so would paralyze many established research groups and institutions that have grown to be dependent on this structure (demonstrated by the New Zealand case). A pragmatic solution would to be to limit laboratory size to 10 or fewer individuals, and to create sustainable and independent Staff Scientist positions. Academic science could learn from other professions, such as law or medicine, which exist as hierarchical but non-pyramidal structures. University departments could structure themselves like law firms, with scientists of all levels working together as needed for individual projects, but without of the organizational requirement of perennial labs with one Professor.
Tomás Ryan
Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
E-mail: tr1{at}

The postdoc position should be replaced by an academic research scientist position that is treated as a career rather than extended training, and compensated by salary commensurate with education and experience. Although research scientists should be held accountable for the progress of their research, the labs in which they work should be run with more oversight. Lead investigators should receive managerial training, and an overarching university body should evaluate the management of labs to ensure that research scientists receive appropriate guidance and regular feedback. Within labs, a sub-structure of collaborative research groups could provide new hires with direct supervision and would also provide senior lab members with the opportunity to develop managerial skills needed for their future success as lead investigators. However, each research scientist need not aim to run an independent lab, as one could rise to a senior research scientist or director level position within a lab, so long as he/she continues to be productive in his/her own research and contributes to the development of others in the lab. A key strength of this structure is that it values contribution to the overall success of the group rather than solely rewarding individual accomplishments.
Nidhi Ruy
Medical and Scientific Affairs, Synapse Medical Communications, New York, NY 10017, USA.
E-mail: nidhig01{at}

No, I don't believe that the broad idea of a postdoc is obsolete. My current postdoc has been extremely useful to me in my development as an independent researcher. But, I do think that the North American form of the postdoc should be significantly altered. After completing my Ph.D. in Canada, I started a postdoc in Australia. The contrast in postdocs between these two countries is appreciable. In Australia, I am treated as a full and equal staff member and colleague. I can co-supervise graduate students and apply for grants as a chief/principal investigator, and I am paid a salary that allows me to adequately support my family. Postdoc positions are very different in Canada, where postdocs are often lumped in with graduate students, are not recognized for graduate student supervision, cannot apply for many of the grants full faculty can, and usually earn much lower salaries. Failing to treat postdocs as colleagues and provide them with reasonable funding opportunities and salaries risks losing their energy and expertise. This would be a great disservice to science and society. Simple changes could see postdocs treated as junior colleagues, and would strengthen the overall scientific landscape.
Matthew Mitchell
School of Geography, Planning, and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia.
E-mail: m.mitchell{at}

In China, obtaining a postdoc after getting a Ph.D. used to be regarded highly, but this is no longer the case because postdocs in Chinese universities do not receive enough recognition. Recruitment advertisements often emphasize "overseas research experience preferred." A potential solution would be to strengthen global collaboration, which would help domestic postdocs improve their competitiveness by proposing original ideas, designing innovative experiments, and achieving leading results together with international colleagues to improve their competitiveness. Another problem is career stability. Since postdocs are a short-term research position, young scientists will have to pay more attention to future career opportunities. To solve this problem, an effective strategy is the establishment of a "shizi-postdoc" at Chinese universities, which is like a two-year tenure-track. Shizi-postdocs are able to transfer to their corresponding faculty positions once they are qualified with excellent results. Further changes may be necessary to extend training time for shizi-postdocs. Additionally, research independence is a crucial issue. At Chinese universities, postdocs often join ongoing group projects instead of implementing their own ideas. To change this situation, their supervisors should act as collaborators rather than instructors. The author thanks his supervisors, Chengke Bai and Guishuang Li, for their useful advice.
Bo Cao
College of Life Sciences, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, Shaanxi, 710119, China.
E-mail: bocao{at}

People usually know what is valuable after they lose it. If postdocs vanish, scientific advancement would inevitably suffer. Research postgraduate students receive less guidance and professors get reduced support. Most fresh Ph.D. graduates are not yet well prepared to serve as principal investigators and most principal investigators have benefited from postdoctoral training. Postdoc positions are therefore an indispensable bridge between beginners and experienced mentors. In view of the misconception that postdocs are redundant, I suggest that scientific journals include in the contents a special section that exclusively publishes research articles on studies conducted by postdocs in the capacity of leading investigators, thereby highlighting the contribution of postdocs. Such a simple change not only encourages postdocs to immerse themselves more into research but also instantly eliminates the unrealistic impression that they do the same work as what students do. In practice, it is desirable that postdocs turn attention from routine experiments to integrative tasks, particularly coordination of research modules, so that they become capable of effective implementation and optimization of novel strategies that they come up with. Ideally, establishing "postdoc section" in journals would achieve the identification of a distinct role of postdocs as recognized precursors toward independent scientists.
Chun-Wai Ma
Department of Physiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
E-mail: cwma2010{at}

Postdocs who are raising a family while training for a scientific career need more support. 26% of postdocs at my university have a dependent child. Postdocs pay serious penalties in dollars and, for mothers, in professional reputation when they have a child, which are exacerbated for underrepresented minorities. Increasing support for postdoc parents would increase diversity at the postdoc and faculty stages, especially in fields where postdocs are longer and more common. Postdocs need financial assistance in paying for childcare. Postdoc parents cannot survive on two NRSA-level salaries in my city (median rent for 2 bedroom apartment and childcare leaves $10 per month for taxes and all other expenses). Starting a family should not be an option only for postdocs whose partners are wealthy. Child care financial aid, eligibility for pre-tax dependent care payment plans, and backup care programs are needed to support postdoc parents. Postdoc fellowship policies should also be adjusted to support new parents. Postdocs on fellowships are often ineligible for maternity leave. And parenting a newborn does not stop when postdocs return to work; a 1-year extension on the "postdoc clock" of eligibility for NIH's Pathway to Independence award, akin to the 1-year extension faculty get on their "tenure clock," is necessary.
Katherine L. Thompson-Peer, on behalf of P-Value* at UCSF
Department of Physiology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.
E-mail: katherine.thompson-peer{at}; pvalueUCSF{at}

I think the problems facing research make the postdoc position more important, not obsolete. From my perspective, I don't have much of a choice not to do one. Obviously to be considered for any tenure-track position in research, I need to do a postdoc. With the number of Ph.D.s in research related fields, it seems like only a matter of time before any decent non-academic research job would require a postdoc as well. From the perspective of the industry, there's the obvious benefit of cheaper labor than tenure-track researchers, with more experience than grad students. The industry also benefits from making individual researchers change fields and perspectives. I suspect a good number of fresh ideas in research would not have come about if there were one less step between the lab bench and grant writing. I think a change to improve it for all concerned would be encouraging a more significant transition in research fields from grad school to long-term career. Perhaps there should be grant mechanisms for grad students funding a short postdoc, with the stipulation that it must be a complete departure from what the student worked on in grad school.
Phil Spear
Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado, Denver, Anschutz, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.
E-mail: interkin3tic{at}

Postdocs should be treated like actual employees. Our salaries are fine, but we don't get the benefits of employees with less education, less training, and less experience. When you have been in higher education for more than 10 years, it would seem reasonable to get employee health (not student health or no health) insurance and retirement benefits. When a research technician straight out of college gets 6 to 12% retirement benefits, and a postdoc gets zilch, there seems to be a problem. I truly enjoy my postdoc and I would do it again, but more than 6 years with no employer-contributed retirement has put me far behind other educated workers my age. I have been a successful postdoc with a fellowship from the American Cancer Society and a K99 award from the National Cancer Institute, but I still feel as if my department/University will not spend a dime extra on me. Second class employee, but the research is fun!
Jared M. Fischer
Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR 97239, USA. 
E-mail: fischerj{at}

If one intends to pursue a career within academia, a postdoc can be really beneficial. Doctoral programs tend to have a very narrow focus. Completing a postdoc or two makes it possible to learn how to apply one's skills in more directions, and to think more broadly about solving various scientific problems. In addition, today's collaborative environment requires building a strong network. In a postdoc position that network can be quickly expanded to include multiple schools. It's an opportunity that people who go straight to tenure-track positions miss out on. The breadth of experience that comes from working on a variety of projects also helps in coming up with creative ideas once one does get a more permanent position. However, outside of a future in academia, a postdoc position serves very little purpose. I would recommend universities help people seeking these positions to form a more realistic picture of their future. The increasing rarity of tenure-track positions means that postdocs need to be prepared for jobs that are significantly less attractive. One must honestly answer the question "What am I willing to give up for a career in academia?" before proceeding toward a postdoc.
Kriti Charan
School of Applied and Engineering Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.
E-mail: kc636{at}

Top Online Essays

Women tend to have their first child in their late 20s. This is no exception for women in science, or at least it should not be. Sadly, this major event often coincides with an equally important part of their career: their growth from early to mid-career scientists. At this critical time, they are too often faced with only two options: delaying the birth of their first child or putting their scientific career on hold. Why is this specific to scientists? Simply because for every other job, there is the third option of working part time, but for some reason part-time postdoctoral positions are virtually nonexistent. Are PIs worried that their grant application would be frowned upon if it included a part-time postdoctoral position? Surely funding agencies would be worried that the work will not be delivered on time! But part-time postdoc would lead to faster research, with more brainpower and collaborative work if the workload is shared between two part-time postdocs. It also means more jobs! Part-time postdocs should be the norm, not the exception. It would not only benefit women willing to have children, but any scientist willing to have more family time or develop other skills or interests.
Stéphane Boyer
Department of Natural Sciences, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, 612, New Zealand.
E-mail: sboyer{at}

Postdoc positions should be fellowships, not science-for-hire jobs. Take a postdoc in, train her or him in proposal writing, presentation, and general science techniques, and then release him or her into the wild as a more mature and capable independent scientist.
Paul Byrne
Lunar and Planetary Institute, Universities Space Research Association, Houston, TX 77058, USA.
E-mail: byrnepk.lpi{at}

More emphasis should be put on preparing postdocs for careers besides that of the principal investigator running a research lab. Skills that also translate well into other career tracks also should be taught and honed as a matter of course, not as exceptions. Such skills include verbal communication (to a large audience, a small audience, and one-on-one, especially to non-specialists and non-scientists); written communication, including editing skills; "people" skills (how to work as part of a team, how to give and accept constructive criticism, how to cooperate with those whose style and habits are different); and project, personnel, and budget management. There should be more organized opportunities for postdocs to network with important figures in the non-academic job sectors.
Kin Chan
Department of Genome Integrity and Structural Biology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.
E-mail: kin.chan{at}

There is not a single day that I regret being a postdoc. I am even now on my second postdoc position to advance my vision of becoming a PI. And herein lies the first problem. I am in Belgium, but I am Australian and wish to return to Australia. I want to teach, I want to carry out research, and I want to serve the higher education sector and pass on my knowledge and training. But the odds are stacked against me. Baby boomers not retiring; Universities are not hiring. I have a1% chance of becoming a professor. The oversupply of Ph.D.s and academic inflation has overwhelmed the classic "science as a vocation model" of Ph.D. to postdoc to academic by age 40. The new postdoc today is a business administrator, human resource manager, project team leader, a "jack of all trades." And herein lies the second problem but also the solution. We need to show the world we are not intellectual narrow-minded buffoons holding pipettes. We are multi-skilled lateral-thinking project managers. We need sell ourselves better. The postdoc position is not obsolete—only the way we think about it is.
Charles de Bock
 VIB/KU Leuven, Leuven, 3000, Belgium.
E-mail: charles.debock{at}

I believe scientists that already have a Ph.D. degree should be able to start their professional careers, both inside and outside the academy. In Argentina, most young scientists follow an academic career, starting a Ph.D. once they graduate and a postdoc immediately after the Ph.D. The main reason is that job opportunities outside the academy are scarce. However, nowadays, many postdocs will not be able to complete an academic career. Those young scientists are highly qualified and their education (both undergraduate and graduate) has been generally paid with public funds, which entails a significant investment for the State. Therefore, I believe the most important challenge for Argentinian scientific policy is to promote their integration inside or outside the academic system. Accordingly, for those who will follow an academic career, the postdoc should be replaced by a young investigator position. And for those who are going to work in non-academic jobs, it would be best to start immediately after the Ph.D., replacing the postdoc for job opportunities outside the academy. It is noteworthy that people finishing their Ph.D. studies are usually around 30 years old, completely mature, ready and eager to face a work position instead of a postdoctoral fellowship.
Ana Laura De Lella Ezcurra
Fundación Instituto Leloir, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
E-mail: aezcurra{at}

Considering postdocs as colleagues and not subordinates will be a great value addition to the postdoc position and would usher in greater sense of independence, responsibility, and scientific participation. Postdocs are experts in their respective fields and in many cases, pioneers who are aspiring to widen their research horizons. The postdoc position therefore provides learning opportunities both for the candidate and the supervisor. This opportunity can be maximized by providing ample opportunities for the postdoc to demonstrate his or her independent capability to think creatively and critically. The common attitude of regarding postdocs as trainees or interns leads to the lack of appreciation of their skills and limited involvement in decision making, collaboration, and leadership. The latter experience is an essential component to develop leaders of the future.
Deepak Dhingra
Department of Physics, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA.
E-mail: deepdpes{at}

Today's postdoc is cheap labor for many PIs who cannot afford to spend time with Ph.D.s but need an independent investigator without permanent tenure. Most of the international postdoc fellowships, especially in Europe, give tax-free fellowships, which make postdocs cheaper for PIs than Ph.D.s.
Sri Ramulu Elluru
IKE, Pediatrics, Linköping University, Linköping, 58183, Sweden.
E-mail: sriram.elluru{at}

Postdoc positions could be less rigid than they are now. How about using a person's talents to improve the overall performance of a lab instead of trying to force them into one specific way of doing a job? I can imagine that a postdoc with management skills could be very useful in supervising Ph.D. students in the lab while running their own scientific projects. That person might not want to pursue a career in academia, but could use their developed management skills in industry. A postdoc with good communication skills could be used to help others with their presentations and writing. This would take some workload of the PIs as well. And how about having a postdoc in the lab that pursues those little crazy ideas that come up during meetings to check if they are worthy of following up? This might be a postdoc that will help create new projects, but for whom it is not necessarily interesting to have first-author papers because of their future career choices. By being more flexible and creative in how we see fulfillment of a postdoc position, new opportunities for all of will be created.
Banafsheh Etemad
University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands.
E-mail: b.etemad{at}

After one year of being a postdoc, daily work-life is barely about research instead it is all about funding. A colleague stated, what kind of research environment is that if all that postdocs talk about is "how long is your contract?" or "what kind of proposal are you writing?" Do I find that a postdoc is obsolete in today's science? No, I would not agree, given that it gives you the possibility to travel, learn from new institutes, and expand your contacts. However, 1-year contracts or even less are not reasonable and do not create a productive scientific environment if all you can think about is how and where to continue. I would encourage a minimum duration of 3 years for postdoc positions and an advisory board at each institute assisting in about what steps to take next. Finally, more permanent jobs in the scientific sector need to be created, which do not necessarily lead to a professorship. I do not feel the urge to become a professor, but clear ways out of the endless postdoc-cycle need to be defined, so scientific discussions can finally concentrate on what they should concentrate on: science!
Sonja Geilert
Department of Marine Biogeochemistry, GEOMAR Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel, 24148, Germany.
E-mail: sgeilert{at}

The postdoc should not be a stepping stone on the way to an industry job. The time spent away from industry harms the postdoc and they lose some of their most valuable time in the work force financially. Thus these positions should be reserved for those interested in pursuing careers as professors or research scientists with control over their funding. To address this, the hiring of a postdoc by any institution should include certain assurances by the granting institution that the position will be fulfilling in this regard. This could be accomplished by a "buy out" component to their initial contract which assures the newly hired postdoc that if he or she cannot secure a tenure-track position at a university or a staff scientist therein, the host institution will hire the postdoc as a staff scientist from a fund established by the host department. In doing so, this puts pressure on the adviser from the department or institution to place the postdoc in an academic setting. It also offers mechanisms for hiring staff scientists within departments that can become departmental resources and greatly enhance research and mentoring quality. The challenge then will be to change the structure of academic research programs to focus on quality rather than quantity as well as develop funding mechanisms through established funding agencies (NSF/NIH/DOE/DOD) to enable departments to submit grants which include staff scientist positions similar to instrumentation applications.
Brandon Lee Greene
Department of Chemistry, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.
E-mail: blgree2{at}

Here's our modest postdoc proposal: rather than discard the postdoc position altogether, let's change its timing instead. In short, let's replace postdocs with "predocs" by making it possible for aspiring scientists to glimpse their chosen research fields before going to graduate school. A predoc would thus gain vital and hands-on research experience when he or she needs it the most—prior to commencing a demanding and rigorous Ph.D. program in the sciences. Moreover, with a "predoc" under our proverbial belts, we would not only have a much more realistic picture of how science really works; we would also be better equipped for our subsequent graduate studies.
Enrique Guerra-Pujol
Dixon School of Accounting, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816, USA.
E-mail: Enrique.Guerra-Pujol{at}

One possible change involves institutionalizing the postdoctoral fellow. The concept involves narrowing the definition of the modern postdoc to those Ph.D.s with a genuine intent and demonstrated track record to pursue a successful career as an independent principal investigator (PI). The process involves faculty nominating excellent postdoctoral candidates interested in joining their lab for institutional review. Institutional evaluation allows for selective and objective evaluation of a postdoctoral candidate's likely success as a PI. As evaluation occurs at the graduate student and faculty hiring levels, it seems logical that departmental or institutional assessment is extended to the postdoctoral level. Candidates accepted by the institution will be designated as postdoctoral fellows, supported by T32 training grants until the fellow secures their own funding, a critical skill necessary for success as a PI. They are subject to annual review similar to graduate training. For Ph.D.s who are not interested in the PI track yet would like to pursue research careers, an alternate track is the postdoctoral staff scientist, supported by a PI's NIH R01 grant or NIH research specialist grants. Goals of this idea include recruiting top talent toward a PI track, increasing value to the modern postdoc, and shrinking the total postdoc population.
Saori Haigo
Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94158–2156, USA.
E-mail: saori.haigo{at}

The postdoc is still in many countries considered a training position. What further training can a Ph.D.-qualified scientist possibly do that is different from what a graduate would undertake while working in another job? Surely this is what one calls experience. Does training ever stop throughout ones working life or career? The culture that a postdoc is less than any other worker is wrong and outdated. We need to replace postdocs with valued employees. A title change to Research Scientist is more appropriate. There should also be job stability: Permanent contracts subject to funding. Perhaps the fault lies in academia: Those that operate as small research centers show that this leads to a more professional working environment than traditional academic labs. Principal investigators need to modernize and recognize that their postdocs are highly qualified staff required to keep their research moving forward. Finally, we should understand the motivations for taking academic research jobs. Academia provides the flexibility to research in areas that would not be a choice in industry. Perhaps lack of alternatives in certain geographical areas and family commitments also contribute. The biggest overlooked motive: Work at the bench is for some people their lifelong passion. Why demoralize a whole workforce for choosing to work in an academic environment?
Shahienaz Emma Hampton
New York University Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
E-mail: s.hampton{at}

The length of time an individual spends as a postdoc needs to be addressed. My Ph.D. is in the field of ecology and unfortunately, it has become very common for people to have three to four postdocs before landing a tenure-track job. This means that a person is likely to spend 6to 10 years as a postdoc before becoming a faculty member. There are many issues with this expected length of time if someone wants to become a faculty member at a research institution. The uncertainty of not having a permanent job and juggling work-life balance are crucial particularly if STEM fields are hoping to retain women scientists in the academic workforce. Academia is likely to lose high-caliber scientists simply because individuals are unwilling to put a decade of their lives on hold for the chance of getting a tenure-track job. The length and number of postdocs are unreasonable expectations in academia and needs to change if academia hopes to retain leading scientists.
Xueying Han
Center for Nanotechnology in Society, University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.
E-mail: xueying.han{at}

Postdoctoral positions are an additional stage of training, like residencies for medical doctors, and they have their place in fields where the duration of training extends beyond the normal 5 to 6 years of doctoral training. The major problem is that postdocs often serve as cost-effective research assistants, which incentivizes PIs to acquire more postdocs than can subsequently be employed. The glut of postdocs has led to an arms race among postdocs in competition for faculty positions, furthering the postdoc pathologies. This can be partially alleviated by strictly defining postdocs as independent researchers, as opposed to the current situation where postdocs are nearly as beholden to a PI as graduate students. One potentially effective implementation of this would be to have postdocs supervised by committees as opposed to individual PIs. This would allow the PIs to continue to maintain a supervisory role, which is important to ensure productivity, yet it would reduce the tendency of PIs to exploit postdocs as labor sources by providing postdocs with the ability to appeal to additional PIs for support.
Kyle I. Harrington
Center for Vascular Biology Research, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
E-mail: kharrin3{at}

Given the fast increasing number of postgraduates and the decreasing period to finish a research degree (e.g., 3 years for a Ph.D. degree in many Australian universities) it becomes essentially important that a transition period should be there between formal academic and postgraduate to further advance their professional skills. It might be helpful to promote their development by establishing some small funds for them to apply. Right now, although the salary is relatively high for many postdocs in Australia, compared to those in the United States and Europe, the future is not optimistic for postdocs because there is currently only one funding scheme for them (with success rate 14.3% for 2015, which is quite low given that postdocs from the world will apply and research in Australia is not leading in many areas). Many postdocs and early academics (lecturer/senior lecturer) are contemplating or attracted to leaving Australia. There is definitely something that Australian government can do to retain or improve its research capacity to enhance its innovative capability for the challenging economics.
Qinfu Hou
Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, 3800, Australia.
E-mail: qinfu.hou{at}

Every year fierce discussions about the objective of graduate program break out in the largest study-abroad forum in China. Opponents of graduate study often say that for many people, a series of unpaid and unrecognized postdoctoral stays would follow after they obtain their Ph.D. degrees. This fact makes me think that the idea of postdoc position is outdated. A postdoc should at least gain recognition comparable to that of an engineer or an accountant. However, the current status of the postdoc position is not so good, perhaps mainly caused by its short-term and insecure nature. So I think it is time to replace postdoc with permanent positions like staff scientist. Through this change, the scientific community would grow healthily with more experienced members and fewer young people having an uncertain future.
Zhifeng Jing
School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, Shanghai, 200240, China.
E-mail: francijing{at}

The idea of the postdoc is not dead for a multitude of reasons that start at a higher level. PIs need postdocs to teach students, do research, and write grant proposals in an ever-increasing competitive market where unattainable workloads are required. However, with this in mind, perhaps universities should look toward hiring postdocs as lecturers thereby freeing up professors to do research, or hiring them as independent researchers so that professors can teach. This new hiring philosophy will benefit science in the long run and ensure high-quality education and research at educational institutes.
Kingsley Christian Kemp
Department of Environmental Engineering, POSTECH, Pohang, South Korea.
E-mail: ckemp{at}

There is a huge requirement for highly trained researchers to carry out physical experiments and not simply dream them up—this is a reality of 21st century medical research and has led to the huge increase in the postdoctoral workforce. People with doctorates are often required to do it but have a terrible way of handling, defining, and supporting this class of workers. The answer in my mind is to encourage central funding for staff researchers—employ Ph.D.-level scientists as members of the department or research institute and assign them to work with groups on particular projects that suit their expertise. We have managed to create permanent positions for grant facilitators, secretaries, and project managers as essential components of the research enterprise. Why not scientists? Create respectable, well-compensated positions for Ph.D.s who enjoy bench work and the academic lab environment, but are simply not going to—and do not want to—run their own lab. For those pursuing the group leader status, it should be explicit that the position is a purposeful temporary training experience: re-tooling and gaining research independence with the intention to move on to start their own group. If you want hands to drive projects that fall outside of a research technician's role, hire a Ph.D.-level scientist, pay them well, keep them happy, and watch the benefits roll in.
David Kent
Department of Haematology, Cambridge, Cambridge, CB1 3DE, UK.
E-mail: david.g.kent{at}

Postdocs are essential for groundbreaking scientific insight. Doctoral students are still learning to master research. Professors and permanent scientific staff do (and should!) carry a considerable number of duties beyond research. The postdoctoral phase is crucial to develop a pool of new ideas challenging established views. This pool of ideas provides themes to explore for a postdoc's entire future scientific work. The flexibility to change postdoc positions and to experience different perspectives in research groups worldwide is vital. However, the day-to-day practical implementation of any particular position may well fall short of this ideal view. We need efficient funding schemes and many more open-minded established researchers to guarantee that postdocs have balanced opportunities to contribute to running large-scale projects while maintaining their independent views. Only a combination of incremental improvements can achieve this goal. For example, what about implementing better-structured multi-year contracts allowing efficient international postdoc exchange between different universities within a single contract? Why not try to foster interaction between postdocs as a group leader? What about shorter decision times for fellowships? In summary, postdoctoral years are indispensable and many small practical improvements are the key to the future of postdocs.
Christian Kuehn
Institute for Analysis and Scientific Computing, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, 1040, Austria.
E-mail: ckuehn{at}

Young scientists often spend the period between being in a postdoctoral position and gaining academic tenure working on short-term contracts of between 1 and 2 years, and relocating from one country to another for subsequent postdoctoral positions. This is a "bottleneck" that represents the most insecure and unstable phase in their research careers. At this phase, a large number of highly qualified young scholars worldwide compete for limited faculty positions that would grant them independence in teaching and research. We need to establish a number of career paths for young scientists other than securing a permanent academic job at public university as a faculty member. The German model of a Junior Professorship (JP) could replace postdoc position when establishing internationally competitive career paths for young scientists. In Germany, successful completion of a JP not only represents an alternative to habilitation, but also promotes qualified young academics later to a full professorship with tenure-track options. This path will open doors to young scientists with excellent credentials to start their scientific career immediately after completing their Ph.D. degrees, and this appointment would grant them independence in teaching and research.
Tonni Agustiono Kurniawan
Department of Ecology and the Environment, Xiamen University, Xiamen, 361102, China.
E-mail: tonni{at}

A postdoctoral fellowship has essentially become a requirement for a career in academia. I believe one should definitely have additional experience after graduate school before leading a research program. However faculty positions are becoming increasingly competitive and the average age when one receives their first faculty position is increasing. To better support the next generation of scientists, I feel changes must be made to postdoctoral fellowships. Instead of viewing a postdoctoral fellowship as a transitory stage, the position of postdoc could be professionalized by offering longer contracts with higher salaries. Long-term placements can allow for continuity within the lab while reducing miscommunication during turnover of personnel. Increasing salaries will allow for postdocs to have rightfully earned financial stability and perhaps reduce the urgency to obtain a faculty position. To offset these costs, institutions could limit the number of graduate students they accept. This could also reduce the competitiveness for postdoctoral positions while providing security to those accepted into graduate programs for their prospects after graduation. Ones passion for research should not have to be tested by a bleak future of dwindling opportunity and hardship after graduate school. I believe professionalization of the postdoc position can help mitigate these concerns.
Cody Lo
Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada.
E-mail: codylo94{at}

We need to keep the postdoc. This is the time when you escape from your doctorate, put your nose to the lab bench/key board/history book and churn out some really fantastic, cutting-edge research. You're young, it's new; it's all about the energy and the focus. What's needed next is the "pre-prof." If the postdoc is defined by what you are now qualified to do, the pre-prof is defined by what you need to learn, or at least experience, before you take the –big step to become a professor. So this stage is where you manage projects, people, and money, and when you get teaching experience. This should be when you write your first grant application and when you have to serve on some mind-numbingly boring yet vital-to-the-functioning-of-your-institute committee. It's important that you get a taste of the whole future package, after all. The pre-prof is a forward-looking position for future academics. It encourages the pre-prof to think of her or his future, and it encourages the rest of the institute to remember the pre-prof is not just a research machine for the churning out of results. It gives a sense of responsibility for the future.
Alison F. Mark
StEM, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart, BW, 70569, Germany.
E-mail: alisonfmark{at}

In my country (Brazil), at least in my department, I think that gray mass of postdoc students are under-used outside their research projects. So I think that if postdoc students intend to be academic professors, they should be invited more to participate in academic activities outside the lab (meeting organization, classrooms, qualification/dissertation/thesis defense). I think that postdoc students should be seen as true future professionals because sometimes the Ph.D. degree is not enough to complete scientific maturity.
Diogo de Abreu Meireles
Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, SP, 5508090, Brazil.
E-mail: meireles{at}

Shifting from university postdoc position to industrial postdoc position is I think the main improvement needed for today's scientific landscape. Getting the experience to address real society problems while working in company teams will get the scientist closer to the society needs, and will strongly influence his research in the future tenure-track position. Moreover, building strong contact with companies could help in providing funding opportunities for the lab research. Finding companies that allow publishing your work, even as patents, will be in many ways the best preparation before leading the future research group.
Islam M. Mosa
Department of Chemistry, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA.
E-mail: islam.mosa{at}

With diminishing faculty positions, traditional postdoc training seems illogical. It would make more sense to have proper scientific positions with titles and salaries that change and increase respectively based on experience in both the science and soft skills acquired such as lab management, mentoring, teaching, and communicating science.
Gayatri Muthukrishnan
National Centre for Biological Science, TIFR, Bangalore, Karnataka, 560065, India.
E-mail: mailgee{at}

Introduce an open framework for collaborative postdocs to work between two groups/institutions/countries or to make it easier to do exchanges with other postdocs part-way through their contracts. As competition for postdoctoral positions increases due to an ever-increasing pool of Ph.D.s from broader scientific, industrial, and cultural backgrounds, the postdoctoral position itself remains quite a narrow-minded concept by comparison, often working on one or two projects in a single group in a single institution. Postdocs specialize narrowly but are encouraged to collaborate more in later research life; a framework to encourage postdocs to work between groups would allow them to learn how multiple groups work in the same time, afford access to more resources, and require the development of stronger independent project management skills in order to coordinate the experiments required at each end. Having experience in working with two groups will give postdocs a more diverse skillset before pursuing further research, likely related to one of the these groups, as well as strengthening ties between the supervising academics involved. The transferrable skills in managing the collaborative project, negotiating and liaising between two groups (possibly even in two or more languages), would stand postdocs in good stead whether they remain in academia or not. The answer to a broader pool of candidates is simply to broaden the scope of the position.
Ed Neal
School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London, SE22 8PU, UK.
E-mail: e.a.neal{at}

The postdoc position is more useful now than ever before. We live within the information age and not only does this require agility and familiarity with technology from the young, but also wisdom from the old. When emerging scientists are allowed the opportunity to research and communicate findings without the fear of being judged as mere novices, some of the crevices that usually retard progress are easily hurdled. Given the right guidance, attention, and support, postdocs will continue to contribute substantially in widening the ambit of scientific breakthroughs. In most occasions the postdoc fellowships introduce diversity and allow the sharing of expertise among scientific communities. In some cases this also lets even the experienced scientists contribute across the scientific landscape wherever opportunity calls for attention. Postdoc positions would very much improve if not treated as mere internships required by the organizational structure of research groups, but respected as one of the platforms that fuel the livelihood of science.
Katlego William Phoshoko
Materials Modelling Centre, University of Limpopo, Sovenga, Polokwane, Limpopo, 727, South Africa.
E-mail: kwphoshoko{at}

The idea of the postdoc has never been more relevant than it is today in India. With the disparity between increasing number of Ph.D.s being awarded and scientific jobs available, postdoc provides an appropriate platform for the budding scientist to prove their caliber in their chosen fields. It gives a buffering time to a young scientist that introduces him or her to the second phase of a scientist—that is a fundraiser, an organizer, and an administrator. This is also one of the most productive periods in one's career, as one is well versed in the latest techniques available, is updated with the current status of R&D in the chosen area, is aware of the existing problems and requirements, and is brimming with new ideas to fulfill short-term and long-term goals. The uncertainty of jobs that lingers with the completion of a postdoc for those who are not in regular faculty is a major concern. Provision from government, to facilitate job security as per the merit of a postdoc or divert their expertise to entrepreneurship will be helpful in forwarding both basic science and applied science.
Om Prakash
Department of Chemistry, Maharana Pratap Government P.G. College Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh, 241001, India.
E-mail: ops92002{at}

For the most talented scientists, there is no need to waste time doing a postdoc. They should be handed a pile of cash and some bench space for 5 or 6 years to start making transformative discoveries independently (i.e., with their name as last author). The best within this system will continue to flourish and be hired by research institutions or companies.
Aman Prasad
Madison, WI 53719–4558, USA.
E-mail: Aprasad358{at}

I would replace postdoc positions with fellowships, putting the fellows (formerly postdocs) in the driver's seat. The fellowships would also include training on managing research, writing proposals, and industry basics depending on each fellow's interest. The autonomy of the fellowship combined with the availability of training would enable fellows to do what is best for their careers. In places where this solution cannot be applied, I would mandate that postdocs be paid a living wage with full benefits (healthcare, childcare, retirement) so as to encourage PIs to hire more permanent scientific staff. While there will likely be a decrease in the number of positions available to Ph.D. graduates (which can be fixed by thinning the Ph.D. pipeline), the overall career outcomes will be better.
Anand K. Ramanathan
Laser Remote Sensing Laboratory, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA.
E-mail: anand.ramanathan{at}

Very few doctorate degree holders decide to stay for postdoc in India. Some of the reasons are restricted freedom in pursuing ideas, lack of proper guidance, and most important, less funding. The population of researchers is increasing who go for 1- to 2-year postdocs and show no interest in scientific career after returning. This makes the postdoc positions less respectable. Therefore, the postdoc career in India is obsolete. The way out requires creative thinking and making the postdoc positions special. First, novel R&D scientist positions can be created in start-up as well as in well-established companies. These types of ample opportunities are available in Europe, and the United States. Second, fresh positions can be created in national government labs termed as scientists, where the main aim is to flourishing national facility such as Inter-University Centres []. Third, the next version of postdocs termed as superdocs needs to be introduced. Recently, this concept has received positive response in United States. Fourth, for those who don't like to deal with administrative procedures, the agony of funding, or teaching, innovative and challenging positions called super-scientists can be started, not only in institutes but also in universities.
Abhay A. Sagade
Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics, Department of Engineering, Univerisity of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB3 0FA, UK.
E-mail: abhaysagade03{at}

The postdoc is still relevant, but its objectives and metrics of success need to be updated. As graduate students now publish papers prior to graduation, the postdoc no longer needs to develop experience in publishing. The postdoc now needs to develop experience in writing grant applications, particularly in today's competitive grant funding climate. A successful postdoc would be one who writes and receives grant funding prior to postdoc completion or shortly thereafter. Such a shift in the expectations of the postdoc experience would require mentors to change dramatically their expectations and interactions with postdocs; mentors would have to concede that fewer papers would be published so that grants could be written and would have to devote substantial time to mentoring the grant applications. Universities could support this change by using successful mentoring of grant applications during the tenure review process rather than simply counting the number of papers published or mentored. Under this new paradigm, postdocs would gain valuable experience in writing and revising grants before the tenure clock starts, poising them for future success. We still need the postdoc, and we need new metrics for success.
Katherine J. Sapra
Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.
E-mail: katherine.sapra{at}

Postdocs are not so much obsolete as they are detrimental for future science, by scaring away would-be scientists. Solution: Fund a team, not the PI. Tie a PI and his named postdoc team together by offering funding for the entire team. If a postdoc is quitting or is to be fired, the grant offering institution must get a letter from both the postdoc and the PI agreeing to that action. Incentivize the team to stay together for the entire grant lifetime. This solves: (i) The creativity vacuum. By offering postdocs more say in the evolution of the project and by offering more responsibility to the postdoc, this opens door for new ideas to flow in, more easily. Questioning existing paradigms will become easier. (ii) The insecurity problem. Postdocs can feel safer for the project lifetime, and with early-life problems such as putting children in school, things become more predictable. (iii) Postdoc accountability. The postdoc shares responsibility for the success of the project and his future career prospects will be tied to that success. (iv) Project continuity. By stemming floating postdoc population through a lab, this ensures idea and process continuity, thus more return on investment. (v) Postdoc devaluation. By preventing the ease of replacement, postdocs will become more valuable. (vi) Bad-apple elimination. PIs that exploit cheap foreign labor to further their own interests and agenda will find it tough to "hire-and-fire." (vii) Postdoc tracking. The paucity of statistics on postdocs will partially resolve, with grant institutions following through on named postdocs.
Hemachander Subramanian
Integrated Mathematical Oncology, Tampa, FL 33612, USA.
E-mail: hemachander{at}

In my opinion, the path to "fully-fledged scientist" should be made easier, if possible. Undergrads, Ph.D. students, and early postdocs should not be looked upon as cheap labor. Depending on one's abilities, professional skills, and results (publications), after a Ph.D., an equal opportunity should be given for faster advancement up the career ladder. We really should strive to avoid having an almost feudal structure at universities and research centers, with old-fashioned ranks and pre-defined advancement criteria measured in years rather than scientific productivity.
Andras Zeke
Institute of Enzymology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, 1117, Hungary.
E-mail: zeke{at}

Postdoc positions remain highly necessary in China, because the country remains in a crucial transitional period as far as independent research for new Ph.D. However, several relevant problems remain unsolved. First, most postdoc programs offer insufficient salaries, forcing Chinese Ph.D.s to relinquish the postdoc positions. A number of Chinese Ph.D.s thus seek postdoc positions abroad, in the United States or European countries. Said postdoc salary gap between China and other countries can only be filled by outside authority. Second, in China, postdocs candidates are still considered "students" as opposed to individual researchers—they are under close supervision and lack the time and space they need within academia to most effectively pursue their interests. Third, many Chinese Ph.D.s apply for their postdoc position solely in order to build guanxi (relationships) with famous scholars, and not for the sake of research itself. Stricter review processes would cut down on this phenomenon. A careful, performance-oriented evaluation mechanism must be developed, in which postdoc candidates who show self-motivated, research-driven, high-quality academic performance receive adequate merit pay. In this way, a greater number of outstanding Ph.D.s will choose to complete their postdoc work in China.
Ning Zhang
Institute of Eco-Economics, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, Jiangxi, 330013, China.
E-mail: zn928{at}

Make more funding opportunities available for postdocs so that they can gain relative independence and better control of what they do and how they do their research. The change will lead to, I believe, a more dynamic and diversified research community. At the same time, postdocs will be paid better to ease their financial burdens. It does not make sense that postdocs get paid fairly low when their work make the major part of scientific discoveries. The source of the funding for grants written by postdocs could come from private sectors as well as government agencies if efforts are made to increase the public awareness of the contribution to science by postdocs together with their PIs.
Yi Zhang
Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, University of Maryland College Park, Rockville, MD 20850, USA.
E-mail: yi.zhang{at}

Postdoctoral training prepares for independent science careers. The problem is most postdocs don`t know what kind of career they like, and judge a career only by the external rewards (such as money and workload). When they can`t see a way to achieve those external rewards in job searching, they become disillusioned and view postdoctoral training as a bad investment of time and efforts. Instead, what if postdocs could use their training to identify their internal career interest? Think about how you search for apartments; you compare many apartments before realizing what type of apartment you want. Similarly, we can provide postdocs with real-life evaluations from former postdocs on their careers, such as "what aspect of your job do you like or dislike most?" We can interview former postdocs nationwide, and put their stories online, one story per week. That way, postdocs will constantly explore their internal career interest by comparing different career paths, and different people`s opinions on the same job position. As a result, we can help them balance the external rewards and internal career interest so that more postdocs will find a satisfied career, making postdoctoral training useful beyond mere scientific training.
Xiaoyi Zheng
Department of Medicine and Nephrology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.
E-mail: xiaoyiz{at}