ACD Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training


Ensuring the future of U.S. competitiveness and innovation in biomedical research is of utmost importance to NIH. One avenue for achieving this goal is to support a sustainable and diverse biomedical workforce. Concerns about the postdoctoral training system and recruiting qualified postdoctoral candidates have grown in recent years. Data suggest that the supply of postdoctoral researchers may be slowing, presenting an uncertain future for the U.S. biomedical research enterprise. From 2004 to 2009, U.S. postdoctoral appointments in science, engineering, and health increased by over 10,000; between 2015 and 2020, that number was less than 2,000, increasing to less than 66,000 appointments in total. Between 2004 and 2020, U.S. graduate student numbers in science, engineering, and health increased at a steady rate by more than 120,000 to nearly 698,000 students. Hence, there has been an overall reduction in postdoctoral trainees despite a strong increase in graduate students. While the overall investment in biomedical research has grown over this time, there are financial challenges for both postdoctoral trainees and the research labs in which they work. These challenges have been severely compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic environment. It is therefore critical that the agency explore the status of the postdoctoral training system, identify and understand critical factors and issues relating to this decline in postdoctoral fellows, and provide recommendations to address those factors.


Building on efforts already undertaken by NIH to improve the biomedical workforce, the ACD Working Group is charged by the NIH Director to:

  • Evaluate whether there is evidence to support the perceived decline and shortage in PhDs seeking U.S. postdoctoral training positions, and document trends in PhDs choosing nonacademic post-graduate employment
  • Assess and consider the factors influencing the scope and persistence of the issue, including COVID-19, the economy and inflation, trends in academic job markets, time to publish, immigration policy, and the growing biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries
  • Review and compare the mechanisms, effects, and relevance of other approaches to postdoctoral training (e.g., in other countries, other systems)
  • Consider ways to increase support and retention of postdoctoral trainees on key issues related to quality-of-life and work-life balance concerns
  • Engage key parties, both internal and external to the NIH, to understand and strengthen the U.S. postdoctoral training system

Working Group Reports

Request for Information: The working group posted a Request for Information (RFI) for the community to share insights on issues affecting and possible solutions to the recent decline in postdoctoral trainees, which was open from February 14 — April 14, 2023. Please see a summary report below. Deidentified responses will be posted soon.

Public Listening Sessions: The working group hosted four public virtual listening sessions in March 2023 to get input from the extramural research community. Please see a summary report and materials from each session below.


  • Emily Ackerman, PhD — Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University
  • Rashada Alexander, PhD — Director, Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Program, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Mark Becker, PhD — President, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
  • Marisol Cortes — PhD Student, Johns Hopkins University
  • Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD — K. Ranga Rama Krishnan Associate Professor, Duke University
  • Donna Ginther, PhD — Roy A. Roberts & Regents Distinguished Professor, Director, Institute for Policy & Social Research, University of Kansas
  • Thomas Kimbis, Esq — Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, National Postdoctoral Association
  • Judith Kimble, PhD — Vilas Professor, Vannevar Bush Professor of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Emily Miller, PhD — Deputy Vice President for Institutional Policy, Association of American Universities
  • Adriana Morales Gómez — PhD Student, Mayo Clinic
  • Christopher Rhodes, PhD — Chief Scientist, Research and Early Development, Cardiovascular, Renal and Metabolism, Biopharmaceuticals R&D, Chair of AstraZeneca's Postdoc program, AstraZeneca
  • Ubadah Sabbagh, PhD — Postdoctoral Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Chrystal Starbird, PhD — Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • Bodo Stern, PhD — Chief of Strategic Initiatives, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Jodi Yellin, PhD — Director, Science Policy, Association of American Medical Colleges


  • Shelley Berger, PhD
    Daniel S. Och University Professor, Director of the Epigenetics Program, University of Pennsylvania
  • Tara Schwetz, PhD
    Acting Principal Deputy Director, NIH


  • Michael Lauer, MD
    Deputy Director for Extramural Research, Office of the Director, NIH
  • Jon Lorsch, PhD
    Director, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH
  • Nina Schor, MD, PhD
    Deputy Director for Intramural Research, Office of the Director, NIH
  • Idalia Yabe, PhD
    Postdoctoral Fellow, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH


  • Brittany Chao, DPhil
    Health Science Policy Analyst, Immediate Office of the Director, NIH
  • Joel Islam, PhD (past)
    Health Scientist Administrator, Immediate Office of the Director, NIH
  • Laura Long, PhD
    Health Scientist, Immediate Office of the Director, NIH

This page last reviewed on December 16, 2022