It's the job market: From Kelly O. Sullivan, a very, very good point:
“The challenge that postdocs are facing is probably the same that everyone is facing: a weak job market,” says Kelly O. Sullivan, who manages the Linus Pauling Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowships at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and is the current president of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.I wonder if the senior industrial executives quoted in the article would be willing to admit that they were (or at least "the industry" or "the economy" was) part of the problem.
Hey, these salaries aren't so great: It's great to see a look at how inflation affects postdoc salaries:
Salaries reflect another disturbing development: Postdoc chemists seem to be making less money than they used to. According to the ACS survey, in 2005 the median salary for postdocs was $36,000. In 2012 it was $40,000.
Although those numbers suggest that salaries are edging upward, they’re not when adjusted for inflation, says Gareth S. Edwards, senior research associate with the Department of Research & Member Insights at ACS. “Unfortunately, real dollar value—what that salary will buy you—is slowly decreasing, meaning that postdocs are earning less each year,” he says. From 2005 to 2012, salaries increased 11.1%, while the Consumer Price Index rose 16.1%.I'll put my cards on the table and say that I am not one of the people who really buys into the "inflation is killing us!!!" theory of the post-recession economy and the Federal Reserve's activities. That said, inflation is still there, and it is interesting to note that like senior citizens, postdocs and other folks who rely on a stipend (that's not tied to merit, or subject to regular raises) are basically on a fixed income. Huh.
Because of the transient nature of the position, many postdocs end up putting off major life decisions, such as getting married and having children, until after they’ve finished their studies. “I have a twin sister, who I think is a good example of a normal person my age who is exactly like me but who isn’t a postdoc,” says Jessica Breen, a second-year postdoc at the University of Leeds, in England. “My sister is married. She’s got a mortgage and a house. She’s just had her first baby. I haven’t even thought about buying a house. I can’t even think about getting married because I don’t have money to do so.”I wonder what would happen if people said, "if you do this postdoc, you're going to delay getting married or buying a house for another couple of years?" (For the most part, the answer would be, "beats starving, or continuing to be a graduate student.")
Check out this massive disagreement between Dow's Banholzer, DuPont and Vertex: Remember the Banholzer Award, where Dow's William Banholzer said this?:
But you'll notice that a history of postdocing is not among the characteristics that appear in Banholzer's description. "I don't think I need to hire postdocs," he told PCAST. A Ph.D. earned under an excellent professor is sufficient education, he says, because Dow provides newly hired scientists its own training for the work that they will be doing. "They sort of get their postdoc on the job," he notes.Here's what other industrial executives think:
Industrial employers’ opinions are more variable, but they still give postdocs an edge. “It is a slight positive but by no means necessary for our jobs,” says Gary S. Calabrese, senior vice president at Corning. “If there is a particular technical need we have and someone has the right skills, it does not matter if it came through their Ph.D. or a postdoc. Having said this, of course those with postdoctoral experience are by definition broader and have a greater chance of being a technical match for us.”
Pat N. Confalone, vice president of DuPont Crop Protection, tells C&EN that although a postdoc isn’t a requirement to get a job at DuPont, it is a definite plus. “All things being equal, someone who has a postdoc is going to be more attractive to industry than someone without a postdoc,” he says.
“The majority of applicants that we see have postdoctoral experience,” adds Mark Namchuk, senior vice president of research for North America with Vertex Pharmaceuticals. “A postdoc is not essential, but it is becoming the norm. Aside from the additional experience, it often provides diversification of a scientist’s skill set.”First, I think "those with postdoctoral experience are by definition broader" is a potential stretch. What is the evidence of this? I think that graduate students and their doctoral and postdoctoral advisers are well-served to make sure that's true.
I think the true test is this: are chemists with postdocs paid more in industry or hired faster than those who do not? I think I have made the case before that there is a potential opportunity cost in salary to taking a postdoc; as I said then, if it helps you get you hired, then it's worth it.
Readers, what do you think?