The price of doing a postdoc
For the breathtaking 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 began working outside academia instantly after earning their degrees, ex-postdocs make lower wages well into their careers, according to a explore published today in Nature Biotechnology. On average, they give up about one-fifth of their earning potential in the very first fifteen years after completing their doctorates—which, for those who end up in industry, amounts to $239,970.
The financial sacrifice starts during the postdoc. As detailed in the fresh report, which uses National Science Foundation data to track the careers of thousands of people who earned Ph.D.s inbetween one thousand nine hundred eighty and 2010, a typical postdoc in biomedicine lasts Four.Five years with an annual salary of about $45,000—as compared with the $75,000 or so paid as a median beginning salary to Ph.D.s in industry. Biomedical postdocs who later come in the nonacademic workforce then face a pay gap that closes only after another eight or nine 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 inject the job market at the end of a postdoc, you’ve essentially lost those years,” Kahn says. “You’re commencing out at an entry level because a postdoc just doesn’t count in the way that job practice counts.”
The fresh finding is hardly surprising in the wake of other work that has highlighted the perils of being a postdoc, such as the two thousand fourteen National Academies report noting that the “sacrifices” made by postdocs “are not compensated later in their careers.” Nonetheless, the fresh investigate “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 Fresh Brunswick, Fresh Jersey.
This type of information is particularly significant given that many graduate students’ and postdocs’ perspectives about their careers are at odds with these economic realities. In a two thousand sixteen examine, postdocs tended to correctly estimate the slender odds of landing a tenure-track academic position. But about three-quarters of postdocs in life sciences also believed that postdoctoral research was significant for getting a job in industry and began postdocs with little intention of going into academia. The fresh probe highlights the error of this treatment. “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 fresh investigate 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 two thousand sixteen 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 proceed to publish their research.”
But regardless of trainees’ motivations, the hard data provided in the fresh explore will help graduate students think more cautiously about their future, hopes Julia Lane, an economist at Fresh York University in Fresh 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 truly have to persuade 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.”