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The State of the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers Revisited

Building on the 2000 COSEPUP report Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers, an ad hoc committee will:

  • Describe the state of postdoctoral programs in the United States
  • Examine how postdoctoral fellows (postdocs) are being guided and managed
  • Review institutional practices with respect to postdocs
  • Determine what happens to postdocs after they complete their programs
  • Explore important changes that have occurred in postdoc practices and in the research ecosystem
  • Assess how well current practices meet the needs of postdoctoral scientists and engineers and the needs of the research enterprise

Project Scope

Based on a review of existing data about postdocs and institutional practices, the committee will, to the extent possible, attempt to answer key questions in the following areas:

  1. General characteristics of postdoctoral fellows and positions in the U.S.
    • How many postdoctoral fellows are there in the U.S.?
    • Where are they working, in what fields, and for how many years?
  2. Current conditions for postdocs
    • Are expectations of principal investigators made clear?
    • Do postdocs receive adequate professional status and privileges as well as salary and benefits?
    • Are the rules clear about credit they receive for their discoveries in the lab, and are they receiving adequate career guidance and development?
  3. Institutional provisions
    • Do postdocs serve as investigators on grants?
    • Are questions of intellectual property identified and provided for?
    • At universities, is teaching required; if not, is it encouraged or discouraged?
  4. Career paths
    • Where do postdocs come from?
    • What do we know and what can we learn about what postdocs do after they complete their programs?
    • How well are the postdoc programs matched with the career opportunities that are open to them?
  5. Recent trends and changes
    • Have previous recommendations been implemented and to what effect?
    • Are there other developments in the research enterprise that have had a significant effect on postdocs?
  6. Participation in the research enterprise
    • Are postdocs being invited to review journal articles and to write grant proposals, either formally by journals and agencies or informally by PIs, and is this experience useful?
    • What are the impressions of postdocs about peer review today?
    • Are postdocs being used effectively in research?
    • Are postdocs acquiring the skills they need to become productive independent researchers in the future?

At the conclusion of the study, the committee will produce a consensus report.


Meetings & Events

Meeting I
3-4 October 2011
Washington, DC

Meeting II
12-13 December 2011
Washington, DC

Meeting III
8-9 March 2012
Irvine, CA

Meeting IV
16-18 March 2012
San Francisco, CA

Meeting V
11-12 February, 2013
Washington, DC


Related Reports

Committee Members


Gregory Petsko
Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Brandeis University


Sibby Anderson-Thompkins
Director of Postdoctoral Affairs, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Nancy Schwartz
Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, The University of Chicago

H. Russell Bernard
Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Florida

Paula Stephan
Professor of Economics, Georgia State University

Napoleone Ferrara
Genentech Fellow, Genentech, Inc.

Lorraine Tracey
Director of Biological Research and Development, Nanodetection Technology

Carol Greider
Daniel Nathans Professor and Director, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Michael Turner
Rauner Distinguished Service Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, The University of Chicago

James Plummer
Frederick Emmons Terman Dean, School of Engineering, Stanford University

Allison Woodall
Managing Counsel, Labor, Employment and Benefits Group, University of California System

Albert Reece
Vice President for Medical Affairs, Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean of the School of Medicine, University of Maryland

Joan Woodard
Retired Executive Vice President and Deputy Director, Sandia National Laboratories


Kevin Finneran
Study Director

Marion Ramsey
Administrative Associate

Guru Madhavan
Program Officer

David J. Proctor
Research Associate (until September, 2012)

John Ceccatti
Consultant Writer

Maria Lund Dahlberg
Research Associate



National Research Council
Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation