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AWIS in Action! March 2013 - NPA Meeting
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   March 2013
In This Issue
The Quandary of Postdoc Economics
The National Postdocs Association’s (NPA) Annual Meeting convened this month in Charleston, South Carolina, with postdocs and postdoc office managers meeting to discuss issues ranging from how to establish an office of postdoctoral affairs to the provocative idea of accreditation for postdoctoral training in a fashion akin to residency training for doctors. AWIS public policy fellow Erin Cadwalader, Ph.D., and AWIS Past-President Donna Dean, Ph.D., were invited to speak about the importance of negotiating salary and startup packages and how to go about doing it.

The keynote address of the conference was offered by Science Careers 2012 Person of the Year, Paula Stephan, Ph.D., professor of economics at Georgia Tech University and author of "How Economics Shapes Science.” Stephan spoke about the supply and demand which has led to an increasing number of scientists and engineers engaging in postdoctoral training, particularly in fields which rarely saw these kinds of training fellowships in the past. It has little to do with needing more training to be successful at a professional level (ignoring the increasing rate of expected publications for an academic job, which has generally increased along with the years of training). Rather, the number has boomed in biomedical research with the doubling of the NIH budget at the beginning of the past decade along with increases in other research funding agencies budgets, and the current economic downturn of the past five years. Bottom line: there are fewer jobs for the really well-educated individuals in society. And, at an average hourly wage of $14.82 without benefits, from an economic perspective, postdocs are the best bang for the buck a university can buy.

Stephan argues that this current trend is unsustainable and predicts a pending crisis, due in part to the increased constraints on current budgets which may persist for many years. Currently the supply outweighs the demand. Training fewer scientists is one way to shift the supply ratios. She also recommends decreasing demand by mandating increased postdoctoral salaries with benefits. However, while the NIH has indicated they will be making a modest increase in postdoc salaries, it seems unlikely other agencies will follow suit as there is no incentive to do so. In lieu of anyone curbing the supply of freshly minted PhDs (because while not as cost effective as postdocs, graduate students are also cheap labor), doing a better job of educating students about what they are really getting into earlier in their careers, disconnecting the research enterprise from "training”, and helping trainees develop the skills needed to find a job which complements their scientific training, should be more rigorously applied to both graduate student and postdoctoral training. Whether there will be a full-blown crisis, or whether it will be more of a whimper in the dark for the high number of under or unemployed scientists, only time will tell. In the meantime, we continue to encourage the professional development of our own members. To quote Howard Ruff, "It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” 
In This Issue
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