Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Science: Professors report difficulty in recruiting postdoctoral fellows

Via Twitter, this article: 

When Jennifer Mason posted an ad for a postdoc position in early March, she was eager to have someone on board by April or May to tackle recently funded projects. Instead, it took 2 months to receive a single application. Since then, only two more have come in. “Money is just sitting there that isn’t being used … and there’s these projects that aren’t moving anywhere as a result,” says Mason, an assistant professor in genetics at Clemson University.

She isn’t alone. On social media, many U.S. academics have been pointing to widespread challenges in recruiting postdocs. An investigation by Science Careers bears this out: More than 100 U.S.-based researchers were contacted because they advertised for postdoc positions this year on scientific society job boards, and of the 37 who responded with information about their hiring experiences, three-quarters reported challenges recruiting. “This year is hard for me to wrestle with: … we received absolutely zero response from our posting,” one wrote. “The number of applications is 10 times less than 2018-2019,” another wrote.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to professors (especially early-career professors) who rely on postdocs for their work. At the same time, what we are hearing right now (i.e. professors offering lower wages not being able to compete with industry) is the ideal situation. I hope this is the new normal. 

We'll get a chance to find out if it is. I have not been shy in predicting a relative slowdown in hiring this year, and I imagine that within a year, professors will once again have no problem in selling inferior goods filling their postdoctoral positions. We shall see. 

(I suspect this situation has to do with Trump-era tightening of immigration, i.e. it has been more difficult to get international students and Ph.D. graduates to get visas. I haven't articles contrasting the Biden Administration's positions on this - anyone have relevant knowledge to share?) 

6 comments:

  1. I am glad to hear that professors, assistant or otherwise, are struggling to fill postdoctoral positions that offer absurdly low pay and benefits. The ad for the postdoctoral position mentioned in this article (https://careers.insidehighered.com/job/2411969/post-doctoral-fellow-genetics-and-biochemistry) does not even specify a salary range. While the NIH recommended ranges are already low, I know spring 2022 Ph.D.s from top-10 departments who were offered postdoctoral positions at below $50 K salary! What a joke. Faculty should be on the front lines demanding better funding for postdoctoral salaries. Instead, the wring their hands as funding agencies balk at livable salaries for Ph.D. researchers. And we wonder why our national research enterprise is losing ground on the world stage?

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    1. I have a post doc position for $55k with benefits. In an affordable location. Made about the same living in an unaffordable location. Not sure what a PI can do when grant budgets don’t increase beyond inflation.

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    2. Since PIs develop the budgets for their grant proposals, serve on the review panels charged with choosing proposals for funding, and sit on the university committees that set institutional funding guidelines, it seems like there is a lot PIs can do.

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  2. I bypassed the postdoc treadmill after finishing my PhD because, in Australia at least, the prospect of an indeterminate number of years of 12 month contracts followed by relative unemployability was not really attractive given that I wanted to buy a house. The average salary I've seen for postdocs in Australia works out to about $59k USD, but there's not much room to move from there.

    I work in a contract environmental testing lab (soils, waters, air), starting post-PhD on what works out to $40k USD per year. We've hired at least half a dozen fresh PhDs and about 3-4 with substantial postdoc experience as entry level laboratory technicians in the past couple of years (I started as one of those). Most of them after a year or two get bored and leave chemistry altogether. I'd like to know what the figures are in Australia for PhD chemists finding a permanent full time job in research whether in academia or industry, because from my perspective it seems pretty dismal.

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  3. I share a postdoc off a grant through my co-PIs institution, and I have money for a second funded by my institution. My shared postdoc line has a minimum of $51k whereas my institution maxes out at $45k. That's just not enough to live on, especially when I cannot offer moving costs. Grants are a problem, but this is just salary compression that hurts all of us. The best way forward is unionizing faculty and demanding salary increases at all levels to be competitive with industry

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  4. They could be hiring staff scientists instead of crying about the funding going unused. A postdoc will only stick around for 1-2 years, while a BS-level staff scientist will continue to gain experience and likely become more productive than a PhD who's still figuring out how to order supplies, where the bathrooms are, etc.

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20