ACD Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training
Between February and April 2023, the working group hosted four public listening sessions and posted a Request for Information to engage the community on issues affecting and possible solutions to the recent decline in postdoctoral trainees. Responses will be used to help develop recommendations to address this problem which impacts U.S. competitiveness in biomedical research and innovation. Reports for each effort are available below in Related Resources.
The working group expects to present final recommendations to the ACD in December. A final report will be posted here once available.
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
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.
- 3/8/23 Public Listening Session #1: Role, Duration, Structure, and Value of the Academic Postdoc (Including Impacts on Underrepresented Populations)
- 3/10/23 Public Listening Session #2: International Postdoc Concerns
- 3/17/23 Public Listening Session #3: Compensation and Benefits (Including Child and Dependent Care)
- 3/20/23 Public Listening Session #4: Job Security, Career Prospects, and Quality of Life