Post written by guest blogger Charlesice Hawkins, Detailee within OITE.
The National Postdoc Association (NPA) reports that there were approximately 79,000 postdoctoral fellows actively involved in research in the United States in 2017. Officially, a postdoctoral position is defined as “a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.” Whether they are mentoring more junior trainees or working on publishing papers and developing their own line of research, postdocs play a vital role in the success of science and scientists across the country. It is also important to recognize that in addition to their own critical professional development, the period of postdoctoral training often coincides with major life and family changes. We want to express our appreciation for the immeasurable impact that postdocs, visiting research fellows, and clinical fellows continue to have on the scientific community.
In a 2015 report it was estimated that postdocs make up to nearly half of the biomedical training positions in the United States and that the entire postdoc and student workforce contributed almost 40% of project effort (as measured by person-years of effort). Unfortunately, data about the postdoctoral workforce is limited in terms of breadth, consistency, and availability. It is worth noting that large efforts are being made toward collecting data across institutions with the goal of improving support for the needs of postdocs. For example, a 2018 survey of more 7000 postdocs from 351 institutions across the US explored the impact of demographic factors, training, and mentorship satisfaction on long-term career plans. Irrespective of the increased competition for academic positions and the growing emphasis on other career paths, nearly 60% of the participating postdocs maintained the long-term goal of securing such a position. Mentorship training, support, and overall mentor satisfaction were strong components in pursuit of a research based academic career. The 51% of postdocs who did not have US citizenship expressed greater interest in these positions as well despite the unique considerations they may have to take.
During the current global health crisis, postdocs have continued to excel and support science. In the most recent COVID-19 special edition issue of The POSTDOCket, members of the NPA shared stories of the pandemic-specific challenges that postdocs are facing and the innovative ways they are working together to overcome them. Through platforms like Zoom, Twitter, and blog sites postdocs are helping each other stay well mentally and physically, maintain productivity, and continue to build their community. Postdoctoral fellows have also been providing support for physicians and other COVID-19 related projects, helping review the homework of their peer’s children, and launching initiatives to help fellows in immediate assistance with food and housing. International fellows are having to deal with unique issues regarding travel, isolation, and in some situations job security and financial stability. For these reasons, it is more important than ever to support each other and take the time to appreciate all that our postdocs do and who they are.