The price of doing a postdoc

Science | January 10, 2017 | by Devin Powell
mardi 31 janvier 2017
par  antonin

For the overwhelming majority of Ph.D. holders who do not become tenured professors, spending time as a postdoc comes at a hefty price. Compared with peers who started working outside academia immediately after earning their degrees, ex-postdocs make lower wages well into their careers, according to a study published today in Nature Biotechnology. On average, they give up about one-fifth of their earning potential in the first 15 years after finishing their doctorates—which, for those who end up in industry, amounts to $239,970.

The financial sacrifice begins during the postdoc. As detailed in the new report, which uses National Science Foundation data to track the careers of thousands of people who earned Ph.D.s between 1980 and 2010, a typical postdoc in biomedicine lasts 4.5 years with an annual salary of about $45,000—as compared with the $75,000 or so paid as a median starting salary to Ph.D.s in industry. Biomedical postdocs who later enter the nonacademic workforce then face a pay gap that closes only after another 8 or 9 years. That’s evidence that a postdoc has little value outside of academia, says lead author Shulamit Kahn, an economist at Boston University.

“When you enter the job market at the end of a postdoc, you’ve essentially lost those years,” Kahn says. “You’re starting out at an entry level because a postdoc just doesn’t count in the way that job experience counts.”

The new finding is hardly surprising in the wake of other work that has highlighted the perils of being a postdoc, such as the 2014 National Academies report noting that the “sacrifices” made by postdocs “are not compensated later in their careers.” Nonetheless, the new study “provides some good—if dismal—data to further confirm the picture that the production model for scientists is a disaster,” says Hal Salzman, a labor economist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This type of information is particularly important given that many graduate students’ and postdocs’ perspectives about their careers are at odds with these economic realities. In a 2016 study, postdocs tended to correctly estimate the slim odds of landing a tenure-track academic position. But about three-quarters of postdocs in life sciences also believed that postdoctoral research was important for getting a job in industry and began postdocs with little intention of going into academia. The new study highlights the error of this approach. “If you’re thinking that a postdoc is a way to get a good job in industry, this research would suggest that you’re making the wrong choice,” Salzman says.

The new study does not, however, capture nonmonetary priorities postdocs may have, notes Henry Sauermann, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who studies the scientific workforce and lead author of the 2016 paper. “The open question is, do postdocs get different jobs that provide different benefits that are not financial,” he says. “Many say they would be willing to take a lower salary to have freedom and continue to publish their research.”

But regardless of trainees’ motivations, the hard data provided in the new study will help graduate students think more carefully about their future, hopes Julia Lane, an economist at New York University in New York City. “They need more information about their earning potential,” she says. “They need to understand that a postdoc is essentially high-quality cheap labor for the machine that is modern-day science.”

Students are not the only ones who need to pay attention to the risks of being a postdoc, Kahn adds. “The people we really have to convince are the professors and the advisers in grant programs,” she says. “The advisers should say, ‘Look it’s in our best interest to have you as a postdoc, but it may not be in your best interest.’ It’s getting cut-throat out there.”

by Devin Powell

Devin Powell is a freelance science journalist based in New York.

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Photo credit : isak55/iStockphoto










Aucun évènement à venir les 2 prochains mois


C. Villani : "on arrive à se sentir étouffé"

dimanche 5 février

[Interview de C. Villani, The Conversation, 30/01/2017]
Revenons en France avec une question beaucoup plus terre à terre : un jeune docteur en mathématique qui vient d’enchaîner un ou deux postdoc à l’étranger décroche un poste de chargé de recherche ou de maître de conférence. Il débute alors sa carrière avec un salaire de 1 800 euros net par mois. Comment qualifier cette situation et comment l’améliorer pour créer des vocations ?

C.V. : Malgré ce salaire peu reluisant, le statut du CNRS reste attractif pour sa grande liberté. Si l’on veut garder son attrait à la profession, il est important de travailler sur le reste : en premier lieu, limiter les règles, les contraintes, les rapports. Je donnerai un exemple parmi quantité : le CNRS vient de décider qu’il refuse tout remboursement des missions effectuées dans un contexte d’économie partagée : pas de remboursement de logement Airbnb, ni de trajet BlaBlaCar… De petites contraintes en petites contraintes, on arrive à se sentir étouffé. Le simple sentiment d’être respecté et de ne pas avoir à lutter pour son budget, par ailleurs, pourra jouer beaucoup. Par ailleurs, il est certain qu’une revalorisation salariale ou d’autres avantages pour les débuts de carrière seront bienvenus.

Les universités vont continuer à geler des postes en 2017

lundi 28 novembre 2016

La crise budgétaire des universités françaises continue depuis leur passage à l’ "autonomie" avec comme conséquence directe l’utilisation de la masse comme variable d’ajustement. Comment diminuer la masse salarial ? Embaucher des contractuels au lieu de titulaires, demander et ne pas payer des heures supplémentaires aux enseignants-chercheurs titulaires, supprimer des postes d’ATER et des contrats doctoraux ou encore geler des postes. Mais que signifie "geler des postes" ? Il s’agit de ne pas ouvrir à candidature des postes de titulaires ouverts par le ministères. Depuis 2009, 11.000 postes ont été gelés dans les universités dont 1200 les cinq dernières années. En 2017, ce processus continuera dans de nombreuses universités : Paris 1, Toulouse Paul Sabatier, Reims, Paris-Est Créteil, Dijon, Orléans, Brest, Paris 8, Bordeaux 3, Artois, Bretagne-Sud, Lyon 3, Limoges, Pau, Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée.

New Analysis of Employment Outcomes for Ph.D.s in Canada

Thursday 5 February 2015

An analysis of where Canada’s Ph.D.-holders are employed finds that just 18.6 percent are employed as full-time university professors. The analysis from the Conference Board of Canada finds that nearly 40 percent of Ph.D.s are employed in higher education in some capacity, but many are in temporary or transitional positions. The other three-fifths are employed in diverse careers in industry, government and non-governmental organizations: “Indeed, employment in diverse, non-academic careers is the norm, not the exception, for Ph.D.s in Canada.” - Inside Higher Edu, January 8, 2015

[Sweden] New legislation to help foreign postgraduates stay on

Sunday 27 April 2014

On 1 July this year, new legislation will come into force in Sweden that includes measures which will make it considerably easier for foreign doctoral candidates and students to stay and work in the country after graduating.

An agreement between the outgoing Alliance government and the Swedish Green party will secure a majority vote for the proposal in the parliament. (...) – University World News, by Jan Petter Myklebust, 21 March 2014 Issue No:312

On the Web : Full news here

US : Dwindling tenure posts

vendredi 18 avril 2014

Tenure is dying out at US universities.

The proportion of non-tenure-track and non-tenured faculty posts continues to rise across all US institutions, finds a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington DC. Losing Focus : The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 201314 surveyed 1,159 public and private US institutions and found that the overall proportion of assistant professors in non-tenure-track posts was 23.4 for 201314, compared with 20.8 in 201011. Dwindling tenured and tenure-track posts threaten the ability of scientists to conduct research without interference from funders or administrators, says John Curtis, the report’s lead author and director of research and public policy for the AAUP. - Nature, 508, 277, 09 April 2014

Sur le Web : Read on
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