Friday, September 2, 2022

Nature News: it's hard to find postdoc applicants

Via Nature's news service: 
Peter Coveney, a chemist and computational scientist at University College London, is ready to hire a postdoctoral researcher with experience in high-level computing. The problem: he’s struggling to attract a single qualified applicant. Earlier this year, he had to re-advertise for the position after two previous rounds of recruiting failed to produce any qualified candidates. He’s worried that if he can’t bring in someone soon, projects will be left undone and his long personal history of grants and publications could see a slowdown. “I’m extremely concerned about the long run,” he says. “At the moment I’m not running on empty, but I might be before long.”

Madeline Lancaster, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, UK, can relate to that. In July, she received a total of 36 applications for a postdoctoral position in her laboratory, many fewer than the couple of hundred that she originally expected. “I had been nervous that I wouldn’t be able to go through all of the applications,” she says. Those 36 didn’t lead to a single appointment. “I still have not filled the position,” she says. “There seems to be lots of competition for strong candidates.”

I don't really know what to say about this situation*, other than I am sympathetic towards assistant professors who struggle to find postdocs to get their programs off the ground. That said, I still feel the way I did a while back - this isn't a bad thing for PhD graduates, especially life scientists. If private industry is making the market more competitive for PhD scientists, this will do a lot to increase the lot of all working scientists. 

*Also, good economic times won't last forever. We'll see where we are in 5 years. 


  1. Expecting 100s of applicants for one or a few positions is a pretty weird situation as well. So who is this large cohort of rejects, why were all of the "only 36 candidates" unqualified?

    1. Exactly. Getting 36 applicants would be a dream for most industry recruiters in this economy. And this position probably pays half what an industry position would pay.

    2. Agreed. Raise the salary and benefits of lower your standard. It’s a new labor paradigm. Highly skilled people will not work for substandard wages, for the most part. I have no sympathy.

  2. I can't imagine anyone who has done a postdoc seeing this as anything but a good thing for chemists. The system was not serving young scientists well, though I appreciate your point about newer labs struggling to get their projects going with how the market is currently. However, it always seems like these PIs need to really consider their recruiting efforts and what they are actually offering their prospective postdocs.

  3. Prof Lancaster is expecting A COUPLE HUNDRED people competing for her one single postdoc position that pays what, 40k GBP annually? I do appreciate prof Lancaster sharing what her expectation is, and just adds proof we have a giant oversupply of phds in academia.

  4. HAH sorry, this is justice, and I have no sympathy. I remember applying to postdocs in the years before COVID and couldn't get anything. What I did face:
    - No response (most common)
    - No space
    - No funding
    - Not interested (wanted someone with more "relevant" skills)

    The last point begs the question - what is a postdoc for? It *should* be for training, but these days professors want fully trained research scientists ready to go, with salaries much lower than industry and a basically nonexistent academic career path.

    1. Not only that, many expect you to provide positive results consistent with their hypothesis, They think that is what they are paying you for. No wonder a lot of stuff from academia is irreproducible.

    2. it's just chemistry, what "relevant skills" ??

  5. I've been anticipating a trend for some time in Australia (no idea how applicable this is in the rest of the world) that the number of postdoc applicants will drop as the equation shifts towards more PhD grads, a relatively static pool of chemistry jobs and a growing demand for stable, if less remunerative, employment.

    Our economy is solely geared towards the massively inflated and overvalued property market. Everyone wants to own a house, migrants and long-term residents and citizens alike, so getting a home loan approved is a major milestone. A permanent position at $60k AUD p/a is increasingly seen as a better value proposition than an two-year postdoc at $85k AUD p/a, because you're much more likely to get loan approval and potentially into the property market sooner, which has shown itself to be the *true* path to wealth (none of this working hard business).

    Earlier this year I got into doing some recruitment because of my academic connections and my boss wanted some good grads. I received about 10 applications for an entry level laboratory technician position ($60k AUD), and 8 of them were soon-to-be or recently conferred PhD grads. The postdoc treadmill is increasingly being realised as a dead-end in this country, where an ongoing academic or senior commercial research role is only going to be a reality for a tiny minority of grads. There's simply not enough chemical industry in this country to sustain the level of higher degree grads that our universities are churning out. We hired a synth chem PhD with 7 years of postdocs for a lab tech role some time ago. He ended up quitting science altogether to take a public sector stats job. We had another lab manager with similar qualifications (only he got in about 20 years back where a PhD would easily net you a senior scientist position straight out of uni) who quit to start a cleaning business.

    As soon as Australia starts to rebuild its chemical industry and reward its higher degree grads with appropriate positions and not treat them as either cheap university labour or a path towards permanent residency, then maybe we'll see a reversal of the trend.


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