Share Your Thoughts on How to Re-envision NIH Supported Postdoctoral Training


Post-docs – and those of you who interact and work with post-docs: We want to hear from you!

In November 2022, NIH announced the creation of a new Working Group (WG) to the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on re-envisioning NIH-supported post-doctoral training. The most recent concerns surrounding post-doctoral (“post-doc”) training involve numbers, including the numbers of post-docs and the number of available tenure-track faculty positions. Recent data from NSF suggest a substantial decline in post-doc numbers, coming at a time of pandemic stresses, global economic disruptions, and concerns surrounding salary, stipend, and benefit support.

ACD WG charge:

  • “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”

In an effort to engage internal and external stakeholders, the WG is requesting your response to this Request for Information (RFI). We are asking you for input on:

  • Perspectives on the roles and responsibilities of the academic postdoc
  • Fundamental issues and challenges inhibiting recruitment, retention and overall quality of life of postdoctoral trainees in academic research
  • Existing NIH policies, programs, or resources that could be modified, expanded, or improved
  • Proven or promising external resources or approaches that could inform NIH’s efforts to improve the postdoctoral training ecosystem.

We are also interested in hearing about existing program, policy, resource or institutional culture barriers you are aware of that enhance or impede postdoc progression.

We strongly encourage you to respond to the RFI and let us know your thoughts. Responses can be sent by April 14, 2023. We will take all responses received seriously and appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

It is a high priority for NIH to identify, grow, and retain investigators across these critical career stages, because they convey new insights, develop innovative ideas, and advance the translation of scientific research into improved health for all. Many thanks for your help in re-envisioning the NIH-supported post-doctoral training experience.


  1. Hi,

    I would like to emphasize to seriously consider to raise the post doctoral fellowship range so that people do not consider to switch to the companies. If NIH can not match with the sallary to the comapnies level but at least keep very close to it. So people can easily and ha[ppily meet their expected expenses like buying home, cars for family need, health benfits, pay kids turion families, raise family comfortably etc.

    On behalf of raising sallary, fellows can be given more responsibilities with balance in work and life.

    Just my advice, rest you all know better.

  2. NIH needs to reform its policies regarding post-docs:
    1) The salaries are too low and not competitive with those in Europe.
    2) The prohibition on supporting non-US citizens is a self-inflicted injury on American science. It means we turn away many talented scholars from around the world. In fact, there should be more international outreach to countries that are under-represented in American science (e.g. every single African country). This would greatly enrich the cultural and racial diversity of American science.
    3) The limit of 3 years of support on T32 and F32 grants is unnecessarily rigid.

    1. Totally agree with the suggestions! I have a infant and a toddler and daycare cost increased a lot because of the inflation. My aftertax salary is not even enough to support my two kids in daycare.

  3. A postdoc relationship should be a symbiotic mentor-mentee relationship. The goals should be to develop the career of the post doc and contribute to the work of the lab. The post doc should be able to leave the host lab with excellent published papers and with preliminary data and a path toward an R01 application. The host lab should be left with some excellent papers that represent a body of work that form a basis for new thinking. The mentor should have almost daily, informal interaction with the post doc. There should be a limit to the number of post docs in any one lab. nI don’t know what the exact limit should be, but it should never reach the point that the post doc does not see the mentor frequently and at will.

  4. I agree with Dr. Jamal’s comments. However, I think the problem is deeper than just salary money. These Junior investigators look at their mentors and see stressed senior colleagues who work countless hours to keep their research program going and they ask themselves: do I want this for a life? We all know that the situation of funding in this country is not conducive to success. So many Junior scientists who actually get academic positions then end up derailing because of the lack of funding to get their programs up and running. The mechanisms in place right now for funding of Junior scientists in not conducive to success.
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.


    above article bring a very interesting point: If you can guarantee a faculty position and provide all required training for a postdoc to get a faculty position with higher pay, it is OK to pay postdoc less salary for certain years, (3 year?), just like medical fellowers. Otherwise, posdocs should be paid as a highly skilled researchers.

    In other word, the postdoc fellowship should have a better definition, who is a postdoc and who it not, although all of them have Ph.D

  6. Currently, it is very difficult to find good postdoctoral fellows, possibly the initial training of fellows’ quality is compromised during Covid19. This needs to improve and consider the RO1 maximum funding amount limit to give more money to keep good postdoctoral fellows in the lab, Several good fellows just after completing 2-3 years join the industry as scientists. Need to consider framing some NIH rules binding to each institute for their promotion based on the merit and quality publications and recommendations to at least instructors/scientists.

  7. While I understand the need for due diligence and thoughtful consideration to balance post-doctoral training with funding considerations, the fact that first 5 bullets of the ACG charge are “Evaluate… Assess… Review… Consider… and Engage” suggests that the institution still isn’t taking this problem seriously. This kind of strategy comes across as obtuse and/or disingenuous because it 1) does not communicate urgency despite people’s lives and the welfare of our intellectual pipeline in the balance (this is not a new issue), 2) essentially prescribes duplicative research efforts to describe a known problem (many publications/institutions have already performed similar studies in the past decade), and 3) doesn’t suggest a timeline for near-term versus long-term solution proposals. This last point is perhaps the most infuriating—anyone with any exposure to the system can tell it is underfunded, currently exploitative in hours, compensation, and protections (it wasn’t always), and rife with structural, gendered assumptions about the challenges of American workers and families. As a result, post-docs are increasingly being fulfilled by either well supported young people leveraging their parental assets and stability, or immigrant scientists, who have the capacity to produce amazing things, but who conveniently have more to lose if they fail, and less cynicism about the capitalist machine.

    I think we all have a good idea of the direction we need to head to make the system more balanced in all regards, but someone in government and individual institutions has to have the bravery to lead the charge. Short term raises and worker protections to make this path feasible, while years-long studies of better solutions take place, would be a start.

    Please—do better for our young scientists. Just because the current path is doable (arguably), doesn’t mean it’s cultivating our best and brightest in a way that maximizes the return to our scientific community.

  8. Good afternoon,

    I would also like to mention the importance of a significant salary increase for postdoctoral fellows. After years of doctoral training, postdoctoral fellowship salary falls below what could be obtained in many other positions (academic, cooperate, hospital, etc.). Additionally, several predoctoral training programs and clinical sites are increasing their stipends significantly, reducing the gap between predoctoral and postdoctoral wages, and further discouraging obtaining an NIH postdoctoral fellowship. Many postdoctoral fellows are also hired as trainees and not entitled to the same benefits as full employees at their academic institution which adds further burden. The recent salary increase in 2022 was less than the inflation rate, which makes it difficult for fellows to continue to afford housing, transportation, families, etc. While I understand NIH may not be able to provide postdoctoral salary/benefits equivalent to private industry, making the salary more competitive will help with the health, success, and overall well-being of NIH funded postdoctoral fellows. NIH could also possibly consider adjusting stipends based on cost of living in the area to be more equitable. Lastly, I’d like to highlight that low NIH stipends may further discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from accepting a fellowship, as they may have fewer existing resources to rely on through their postdoctoral fellowship.

    Thank you

  9. I agree with the prior comment concerning the need to raise salary of post-doctoral fellowships (I’ve lost several candidates or seen them go vs do a T-32 training spots, to industry where the support offered was financially better), but this can’t be an empty unfunded mandate from NIH, as any NIH-funded Training grants, individual NRSA and/or post-docs on diversity supplements, etc., should be provided the support (in the form of additional dollars) to meet such a new mandate. The rest work-life balance things while valuable, however, often feel like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic comparatively speaking to the salary issues.

  10. As a current post-doctoral fellow, the number one issue affecting me, and every post-doc I know, is salary. As you are aware, the NIH salary cap for PGY/post-doc 0 is $56,484 per year. This ranges up to $68,604 for PGY/post-doc 7. For context, management jobs at Walmart (just as an example, not singling out any brand for any reason), start at $48-72K for “Specialty Area Manager”, $55-80K for “Coach”, $70-90K for “Store Lead”, and $65-170K for “Store Manager”. There are obvious differences between what the NIH cap is and what a large company such as a Walmart are willing to pay. However, the point remains that jobs for post-doctoral fellows, who by definition have advanced graduate degrees and training in their field, are vastly underpaid. The low salary cap set by the NIH artificially depresses the job market for post-doctoral fellows. At many institutions and depending on the field, there is no other way to increase the salary for post-docs, but at some institutions there may be a possibility to add on additional roles to increase salary. However, this directly detracts from the NIH’s goal to train post-docs because we are forced to take on additional responsibilities to earn a liveable wage. It is also worth noting that many post-docs live in high-cost-of-living areas because of the affiliation with institutions. However, unlike other government-based salaries, no adjustment is made for the cost of living, either.

    The abysmally low salary cap creates an artificial appeal to leave academia because even entry-level salaries appear to be so relatively large (many companies offer *double* the salary for an entry level position vs. an entry level post-doc). It is somewhat insulting to post-docs that after 4-6 years of advanced and rigorous training, we are worth less than a “specialty area manager” in the eyes of the NIH. It is also worth noting that many graduate students do not receive a stipend, and even for those who do, it is hard to save money. Therefore, there is added pressure on post-docs to begin to start saving as soon as we leave graduate schools and we naturally look to job opportunities where this might be possible. We made the decision to trade years of earning salary for years of education when we went to graduate school, and this trade-off should be considered when the NIH salary cap is set.

    Lastly, this is an issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion as well. Science benefits from diversity. However, how can science, the NIH, and institutions, expect to attract the best and brightest when after working hard in college, getting into competitive graduate schools and working for 4-6 years, the message is: you can only make $56-60K for the next 4 years. Why would underrepresented minority scholars find that appealing?

    It would be beneficial to 1) substantially (i.e., ≥25%) increase the salary cap baseline and 2) adjust salary for inflation. Post-doctoral fellows are the workhorse of many labs, we should be paid a respectable salary commensurate with the amount of work and value we provide to the NIH and NIH-funded labs. The most frustrating and draconian part of the salary cap is that it is completely arbitrary. The NIH doesn’t contract with most of the post-docs out there. Most are grant funded. Raising the post-doc salary only requires PIs to change their budgeting or fund post-docs off multiple grants. It doesn’t actually affect the NIH directly to raise post-doc salary caps. PIs who can’t afford to pay the salary cap because they don’t have enough grant funding could simply advertise for a position at a lower salary. However, I suspect that most PIs with grant-funded post-docs would in fact be able to cover the raised salary.

    1. The cruel reality is that unlike Walmart and other businesses, the NIH (and the whole NIH-supported research endeavor) does not generate revenue, it spends taxpayer dollars. Society pays pennies on the dollar for academic research, while it’s content to spend dollars for commercial products that cost pennies. Government has not found a formula that compensates scientists for their actual value (this may be impossible). The grad students. postdocs, and PIs that remain in the system are not necessarily the best and brightest, they are the ones that are fine receiving less financial compensation (sometimes considerably less) for the privilege of continuing in the endeavor. Those that want better financial rewards look to the corporate world.

      Until we change how academic science is supported, market-rate salaries while still doing the current breadth and depth of research are not possible.

    2. “Raising the post-doc salary only requires PIs to change their budgeting or fund post-docs off multiple grants. It doesn’t actually affect the NIH directly to raise post-doc salary caps. PIs who can’t afford to pay the salary cap because they don’t have enough grant funding could simply advertise for a position at a lower salary. ”

      This suggestion is unrealistic, unless one postdoc can work as multiple postdocs duties. Each grant has defined work load and salary of postdoc is calculated with % effort.

      If a postdoc want to work for two full time jobs without time to develop his/her own projects, that is fine. But this person should be paid as a skilled researcher, not a postdoc. Postdoc is a training for the next position, such as grant application, develop their own research direction, etc.

  11. It saddens me to think that post-docs who are not American citizens are still denied the opportunity to apply for F32s. I had this barrier ~30 years ago when I was a post-doc. Why is this an issue? Because the abilities of a scientist are judged on what is in their CV. Senior American scientists interviewing younger scientists for faculty positions always forget about this barrier & will therefore overlook those who might be stellar candidates for jobs simply because they have not had access to the opportunities that other [i.e. American citizens] have had in building up their careers. This problem further perpetuates the lack of diversity that we currently have in the USA in those who are in faculty positions. Yet, the solution has been in front of our noses for at least 30 years. An easy fix, but will not really be apparent until the next generation of scientists come through the system.

  12. NIH needs to take a hard look at the goals of post-doctoral training and rethink them. Is the goal to provide a cheap source of labor for biomedical research labs? Then I question if a post-doc is suitable. One could argue that by increasing post-doc salary and benefits then more technicians will be hired for labor instead of postdocs which is probably more appropriate. Is the goal to train the next generation of biomedical researchers in academia and industry? Right now, graduate students are choosing to go into industry without doing a post-doc or only doing a short post-doc because post-doc pay and benefits are so much lower than the salary offered as a Scientist in biotech. If NIH wants more post-docs, then salary and benefits should be raised (see new University of California pay scale as an example). One could also limited the number of postdocs in one lab supported by NIH so that mentors actually have time for their trainees. Is the goal to train the next generation of faculty? With low funding rates which leads to constant grant writing, limited state support for universities, and a stressful workload, academia is a challenging place to work right now. How do we convince our best and brightest to pursue a career in academic biomedical research? Consider longer NIH support for training grants eg 3 years is too short when a postdoc is typically 5 years long, increase salary and benefits for postdocs, implement mechanisms to help along the career journey eg K99/R00 and ESI status for first R01 have worked well but there is no help for mid-career faculty. Could consider (again) limiting overall NIH grant funding for individual investigators so that funds are not concentrated in the hands of a few.

  13. I do think that salary for postdoc need to be revised/increased to match with the industry. Those who choose to go in academia after Ph.D. are very passionate about science and training next generation of scientists. Those young Ph.D’s choose science over over money, so NIH should think about them and reward them accordingly. Also, NIH should seriously think about those who stayed in science and never managed to get faculty position for some reason. Their salary never go up compared to even junior faculty, even though they are the reason of many faculties reaching at the top. Those Scientist should be rewarded based on their publications/productivity, They should not be left at the mercy of just PIs.

  14. My colleagues are right on several of the points made above: salaries need to be higher (and perhaps adjusted for COL of the location in which they’re training), the limit of only 3 years of training support (compared to 7 for graduate training) should be increased (5 would be more flexible and realistic), and not allowing PIs to use Federal funds to supplement a T32 salary flies in the face of the source of all of most PI funding. I also agree that mandating higher salaries without providing funds for this is pointless. The R01 modular budget hasn’t been increased in a very long time, and NIH institutes often impose across-the-board cuts of 10, 15, or even 20% when paylines are tight, making things worse. Further, in some institutes, paylines are absurdly competitive for T and F grants. Benefit costs, due to healthcare cost increases, have risen rapidly, and the PI typically pays those as well. So mandating the deserved salaries – without helping find a way to pay them, especially for scientists who work at places without large endowments or other sources of flexible funds – is not a real solution to the future needs of our biomedical workforce. There are no quick fixes here – we need a thoughtful long-term plan.

  15. There are many angles to this of which my thoughts here are, at best, a guess.

    Post-docs, as the training position immediately prior to a first non-temporary position (in academia, industry, science-writing, etc, etc), are most affected by the natural ebb and flow of ‘stable’ jobs. This is true of any trainee position in any field. Once their post-doc is completed, there are some who are ready for the ‘stable’ work-force, some who through misfortune need to take a second post-doc and still some who never will be ready to hold down a stable job in the bio-related fields. The latter usually have learned skills during their training that make them attractive in other fields, which is a win for society. Point is, there have to be more post-docs trained than the numbers of ‘stable’ position that become open. What the post-doc to stable position ratio should be will be determined by the quality of those completing post-doctoral training, the number of positions that are open and the willingness of those well-trained to re-locate to where the open positions might be. Again, that is no different than any other career except we’re looking at a person who has put in >10 years only to be faced with reality. It is incumbent on those of us doing the training to have that heartfelt, but sometimes uncomfortable, discussion earlier in that person’s career.

    The primary question for the ACD WG therefore is whether there are now insufficient, well-trained post-docs available to fill the stable openings for now or for in the future. If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then we are training sufficient post-docs. I suspect that the ACD WG question is framed incorrectly. It’s not about whether there are enough post-docs. It’s about whether there are there enough trained hands to conduct the research funded by the NIH. We have tended to use post-docs as temporary trained hands. And the post-docs know that they are being used as labor rather than being trained. Is that why the number of post-doctoral applications are declining (if indeed it is)? If there’s already enough post-docs by the metric of number of jobs to be filled, do we need to re-evaluate what the typical ‘work force’ looks like for NIH-supported research? Should the ACD WG should be looking at the NIH grant-supported research work force globally, how the post-docs fit into that work force and where the opportunities are to adjust that balance?

  16. Simple: NIH needs to wake up and increase budgets. More research money for exciting projects. Higher postdoc compensation. I propose a starting postdoc salary of $65K. I propose a jump to $90K in Year 3. This will create two tracks: (1) postdocs who do a 2-year project and go into industry; (2) postdocs who do a 4-5 year postdoc and can now with higher pay start a family or have a reasonable life and become assistant professors.

    I have a NIH grant going into its 12th year; it is just simply ridiculous – from a business model perspective – that the budget is still the same. No business/organization has had flat budgets over the past 10/15/20 years. Please wake up NIH and project this problem to congress.

  17. I don’t understand why so many postdocs complain about their salaries. In Boston, New York, San Francisco yes the NIH scale is not affordable. But in all of the rest of the country $56K is far more than enough to live very well, buy a house, go on vacations, and raise a family on that single income. And there are tremendous labs all throughout the country doing great science and looking for postdocs. If you don’t think that you can afford to live in some places on a postdoc salary, make a choice to go elsewhere that you can afford, don’t complain about how miserable your life is. And there is no reason for NIH to set a policy that is tailored only around the needs of the most expensive areas of the country.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      It seems you are living in another planet. The salary of postdocs who has spent years of harworks to get PhD and then much more harder works now should not be the same as a garbage collector in some states. Please be advised that the US academic system has been broken long time ago. Working in that toxic environment will soon or late ruin all passion for doing scienc.


    2. -Average cost to raise a child$17,000 a year
      -Earlier this month, the real estate brokerage Redfin calculated that a buyer needed to earn more than $100,000 annually in order to afford the monthly mortgage payment on a typically priced home (assuming that the buyer wanted to spend no more than 30% of their income on housing). A year earlier, buyers only needed to earn $75,659 to afford a typically priced home.

  18. I have 2 suggestions:
    1. One of the main attractions of academia vs higher-paid jobs is independence–but few PDs have much independence. To promote postdoc independence (which will also be attractive): any postdoc supported >50% by a PI’s grant gets 20% time to devote to developing their own research project, paid separately by NIH, plus $10K supplies for their own research. The PI must agree to this “release” and the PD turns ins a SHORT one-page report to the PO of the parent grant.
    2. Pressure to take minimal parental leave is a deterrent. NIH should augment any grant supporting a PD (R01, F32, K99, etc) with an additional 6 months fully paid leave plus deferral of annual reports etc. in the case of PD PI grants (eg F32). Anything less punishes the PD, punishes the PI supporting the PI, and is a disincentive.

  19. The State of Washington has mandated that post-docs be paid substantially above NIH recommendations. This is good from the point of view of retention, but bad for lab budgets. If new NIH budgets explain and justify the higher rates for post-docs working in Washington, will both Study Section reviewers and NIH administrators support these rates? If not, science in the State of Washington will decline as fewer labs can find additional funds to cover the elevated post-doc stipend. There’s no state money to offset these increases, so the only way to balance the books is to decide not to employ a post-doc.

  20. 1. Reform the indirect cost rate, e.g., fixed rate of 15%. Then it can free up a lot of money for smaller start-up grants.
    2. Audit and publish expenditures of the indirect cost in detail. Universities/Institutions/Companies should have infrastructures to support research, but not depend on indirect fund to support the infrastructure.
    3. People doing research like the research, they should not be punished by living in a lower standard.

  21. Think Win-Win.

    Too often, we think too much about what we can get out of a post-doc but don’t think enough from the perspective of the post-docs about what they can get out of doing the post-doc.

    Given the low rate of people getting a faculty job, it is not realistic to ask a post-doc to spend many years “training” for a position that doesn’t actually exist. Potential post-docs are simply making a rational choice by going to industry directly after graduation because (1) there is big demand and they have no problem getting an industry job, (2) the industry job pays much better, and (3) they know they would very likely end up in industry anyway after failing to get a tenure track job. Potential post-docs are making very rational decisions here by not doing a post-doc.

    So we need to think more about what we can offer to post-docs (e.g. monetary, growth, connections, etc.) such that they end up in a better position after the post-doctoral stint so as to make the job much more attractive.

  22. This is long overdue.
    I have mentored post-doctoral fellows over many years now and have seen the number of people in the US who are seeking post-doctoral fellowships decline.
    I always have a good selection from fellows outside the US.
    A major problem here begins with our education system where the desire to develop careers that don’t involve higher, more stable salaries for an extended period of time has dropped considerably.
    The stipends for post-doctoral fellows have also not changed with inflation, though this can also be said of the average R01 being $250K. These days if one is looking to hire a computer scientist as a post-doctoral fellow I am competing with Google and other high-tech companies who have now developed their own fellowships for those coming out of a Ph.D. program in computer science and engineering and the pay is more than double what we can offer.
    Bottom line; we are not enticing the best and the brightest from the US anymore. We need to review why but primarily the issue is there is not an attractive road map laid out for them to envision a stable career with reasonable salaries.

  23. A postdoc focus group study should be done to hear the side of postdocs as to what the problems are. From a faculty perspective, improving the postdoc population starts at the graduate level training with 1) Delineating between a job and training position/apprenticeship – where the latter is not pay/salary for services but instead money to live off of while you complete your training; and 2) changing the narrative that postdoc training is only useful if you want to go into academia and be a faculty member. Postdocs are actually being paid to learn – if pay for services is what is desired they will go to the highest salary. Im finding many undergrads actually coming back to graduate school after being in industry so they can learn new skills. There are also many benefits to being in academia that high paying industry cannot provide. These need to be taught and highlighted better. Flexibility in schedule, job stability, freedom of research etc…

    If a predoc/postdoc is being used as a technician or lab manager or only doing experiments with the skills they already have but there is no substantial development of new skills (physical or conceptual) – this is no longer a TRAINING position and they should be paid accordingly for those skills. However, this type of position should be delineated from the training position. So perhaps there should be two phases of the training component for predocs & postdocs: 1) A DEVELOPMENTAL Phase where they are paid a stipend as they are mostly learning new skills and 2) An APPLIED phase where they are being paid a salary to mostly apply the skills they are learning. This will require increases in grant funding to accommodate and changes in how training programs operate.

    Just paying trainees more without increasing grant funding will not fix the problem but will just shift the problem to faculty who are already burnt out with stretching their budgets while still trying to do rigorous science. Faculty will in turn pass that extra work load to postdocs who will also end up burnt out and now not wanting to go into faculty positions. What ever is done please do it with forward thinking so that downstream longterm consequences do not substantially worsen the problem.

  24. My belief is that Ph.D. graduates become academic postdocs not to make a comfortable living but to advance their careers in science. So, when I see the PIs competing for scarce funding, and barely surviving by scraping the bottom of the barrel, it doesn’t give me much hope to continue this path.
    NIH is doing the right thing by raising the postdoc pay guidelines (which are still very low), but it must accompany increased research funding. Otherwise, we’ll see the mass exodus of junior faculties next.

    1. 100% agree with that. I would also add that if a PI has to spend a large portion of their time writing and applying for grants, it’s isn’t exactly “doing science” and some people who are legitimately interested in doing research, even accepting a lower pay grade, might not see this path as very appealing.

  25. I sincerely think raising the pay for postdocs will be no.1 priority to keep the talents in the USA. The second thing can help international postdocs to develop a career and make contributions to this country is to hopefully open more funding programs for non-citizen residents who have spent multiple years in the USA.

  26. I wholeheartedly agree that postdoctoral salaries should be increased and that postdoctoral fellows should have benefits similar to other university employees (postdocs often fall through the cracks of being considered neither students nor employees– can’t access student services, can’t access employee services, can’t contribute to retirement accounts, etc.).

    However, the main point I’d like to bring up relates to how we think of postdocs as trainees and what they are being trained for. We justify lower salaries/benefits because a postdoc is a trainee who benefits from mentorship etc. with the idea that they will later have access to a better job market. Often, the job market envisioned by PIs (and institutions, postdocs, and funders) is the academic job market. But, we know that there are far too few good/non-adjunct/TT academic positions– the academic job market is not good in many fields. So, a low postdoc stipend with potential entry into academic positions is not a good bet.

    Why do we limit successful outcomes to academic positions? If NIH is trying to foster the biomedical workforce or innovation or public health, then postdocs who subsequently go into industry, policy, or other related positions would also contribute to that. If there are not enough NIH grants for faculty to get funded and not enough faculty positions for postdocs to get jobs, then there should be explicit recognition and encouragement of non-academic careers AFTER the postdoc as well as right out of grad school. This would mean changing the metrics for success during the postdoc period. Not every postdoc should develop a project pipeline and apply for grants if their goals are to transition to industry or other related fields; mentors and funders should be more appreciative of the types of training and experience that best prepare postdocs, tailored to the postdoc’s specific goals.

    If there is not a shortage of stellar people applying for scarce faculty positions, I don’t know that it is a real problem if fewer people are applying for postdocs. If we think it is, it is probably because labs rely on postdoc labor. This means those positions could be filled by techs/research scientists. Tech/research scientist positions in academia could be, in fact, much more desirable positions than time-limited postdoc positions since they would have more stability/longevity (pending lab funds and performance). It would in fact make more sense to worry that academia can’t compete with industry for highly trained techs, rather than to complain that PhD grads decide to become techs for industry rather than do a postdoc.

  27. The NIH’s current policy on parental/maternity leave while on a T32 penalizes parents and especially women. The policy is that new parents receive 8 weeks of paid leave. However, the clock keeps ticking on the T32 grant during this period, so in essence the parent will need to be as productive in their research as another post-doc — but in less time. Further, 8 weeks of leave is abysmal, especially for the birth parent — this is barely enough time to recover from delivery and establish breastfeeding, and putting a baby in daycare when they are 2 months old is not acceptable or feasible for many (many daycares don’t even accept babies until they are 6 months old). Many large companies (and indeed, my clinical department at my institution) offer 4-6 months of paid leave post-delivery. The NIH should update this policy so that researchers feel supported in having children while also establishing their research careers by 1) allowing for much longer paid leave times, and 2) allowing extensions on the grant period.

  28. If there is a guarantee a faculty position (or almost guaranteed) and provide all required training for a postdoc to get a faculty position, it is OK to pay a postdoc less salary for certain years, (3 year?), just like medical fellowers because they are in training. Otherwise, posdocs should be paid as a highly skilled researchers based on market rate on each work location, but not as high as biotech in the same location.

    In another word, the postdoc fellowship should have a better definition, who is a postdoc and who it not, although all of them have Ph.D . Posdoc should not be used as a cheaper labor for a long time in the lab.

  29. NIH must conduct surveys from postdocs about employee treatment at each institution, and use that data for ranking and awarding future NIH grants to those institutions. Many universities, including University of Pennsylvania, categorize postdocs as “independent contractors” instead of “employees” to evade responsibilities. For example, because postdocs are “contractors” they are ineligible for employee rights such as assistance from human-relations department, health insurance coverage for dependents, retirement contributions, etc.

  30. In order to have more post-docs, and post-docs of a high caliber, we need to have a better pipeline of pre-doc students who are well-supported and provided with a viable pathway to a research career. Currently, the NIH caps on pre-doc funding are shutting down the ability to recruit, fund, and graduate doctoral students. At our institution, the student union requires payment of a particular stipend level that far exceeds the NIH cap. As researchers, we are caught in the middle. If we put students on our research grants as Research Assistants, NIH cuts the funding allowed for students to a level so far below what our institution requires us to pay students that we cannot fund, and hence cannot train our students. Our students cannot successfully submit training grants because the gap between what NIH will fund for a stipend and what our institution requires is so large that the institution will not be able to fill the gap. If we don’t support and graduate strong doctoral students, there is no pipeline for post-docs. NIH needs to put out a formal policy that allows researchers to flex student stipend levels to meet what researchers are required by their institutions to pay.

    NIH needs to change the funding policy for pre-doctoral students to allow greater flexibility and sensitivity to local economic climates as well as institutional requirements such as binding rules put in place by university unions that require researchers to pay students a particular stipend level that far exceeds the NIH student stipend cap. NIH should be able to find a way to review funding for RAs on research grants, as well as student training grants that allows for students to be paid what is required by their institution – rules that researchers have no choice but to oblige by – while still ensuring fiscal responsibility on the part of researchers. I am not advocating for no oversight or cap, but the current capping level that is blind to individual institution restrictions is shutting down the pre-doctoral student pipeline. If you do not have good pre-doc students, you will not have any post-docs.

    1. I thought we already have too many PhD student, because we don’t have that much faculty positions for those PhD students.

  31. Like many others have highlighted the number one problem with a postdoc is Salary/Benefits. But added to this is also how the postdoc position is treated across many institutes in the US, especially at more notable universities. That is, the supposed “trainee” component of the position is lacking and instead postdocs are often treated as cheap labor, churning out experiments for the PI’s grants/publications, managing the lab, and also mentoring and training graduate students – responsibilities often equivalent to that of a Research Scientist or Technician. Yet, postdocs continue to be compensated as “trainees” despite often recieving very little, if any, training themselve, and having advanced degrees and expert level skills sets that the lab/PI relies on. This is especially true in very large labs where interactions with the PI are essentially non-existant. Therefore I would suggest, as many others have, steps to 1) increase pay and benefits – if postdocs are to be treated as research scientist rather then trainees, they should be compensated as such. And 2) steps to further audit the quality of training a postdoc recieves in a given lab. Nearly every NIH funded fellowship a postdoc is eligible for requires an extensive training plan. But how much of this is realistically implemented after a postdoc is successful at winning one of these awards? The same can be asked after a PI recieved a grant that requires details of a training plan for mentees. With that said, unless these systems change to support not only the points I have raised, but also those of my colleagues on this forum, I believe the reduction in biomedical postdocs will continue. Imagine a fresh PhD graduate posed with the choice between being exploited labor with a salary that borders on just enough live (depending on the area) or a more permanent postion in industry or similar where they have an oppurtunity for growth and a livable income – what sounds more appealing?

    1. Brian and others bring up an excellent point that post-docs are not receiving adequate benefits because they are treated as trainees by their Universities. However, I would add that the NIH is complicit in this as NIH guidance prohibits sponsoring institutions from charging employee benefits on these fellowship grants. My University has gone a step further and interpreted the NIH policy as prohibiting treating these post-docs as employees but rather as contractors. This does not allow them access to the University health insurance or benifits or for FICA to be deducted from their pay. This is ludicrous especially when the NIH is bemoaning the fact that the scientific workforce is too small and not diverse enough. These policies by the NIH force quality young scientists to seek other careers.

  32. I am a senior postdoc at a high-ranked university in the US. I believe that the problem is not only the postdocs’ salary (of course, the low salary is a very big issue). There is no guarantee that a postdoc will land a faculty or any tenured position after those hard years. I have had discussions with many postdocs. There are long stories behind difficulties and disappointments which majority of postdocs have been faced. To be honest, we just regret why we chose this career path for our future life. Although some postdocs have come up with this role just for other purposes, for example moving to the US, getting Green Card, or even because they were not passionate about science or well skilled for induatrial positions, but the rest of postdocs wrongly believed that they can land a faculty position if they go for a postdoc career. This is what NIH should understand first.

  33. There are some serious flaws with the existing postdoctoral training program; I tried my best to highlight major one’s here to my knowledge:

    1) Salary: I believe most aspiring PhD graduates (including me) start their careers as Postdoctoral fellows in academia out of a passion for research, knowing the fact they will be working at minimum wages. However, in recent months, I have seen a substantial increase in the salaries of research staff and PhD scholars to match the increased living costs; however, the Postdocs, who are the backbone of research in leading institutes and notable universities, are largely ignored.
    – If the pay scale difference between a research staff (with a graduate degree) and Postdocs who spend several years on advanced degrees PhD, MS etc. (4-7yrs) after graduation is close to zero, why would one even choose to pursue higher studies or work as Postdoc? In some comments, I see people comparing the postdoc salaries to personnel from industries or other sectors, but it’s no better within our field. I feel Postdocs are a highly skilled and highly exploited workforce group in the US.

    2) Job opportunities/ successful career: Upon completing postdoctoral training (3-7 years), there is no guarantee that you will land a tenure position in academia, as these positions are very limited and highly competitive. On the other hand, industries don’t consider postdoctoral training as an added experience; you would land in a similar pay scale or position to fresh PhD graduates. So why to choose to work as a postdoc?

    In addition, according to news outlets/reports, I see that the number of PhD graduates coming to academia for Postdoctoral training has declined over the last years; at the same time, postdocs are leaving academia for better-paid industry jobs, which may have a serious impact on the academic research community in coming years. I would suggest NIH or institute/university management to review their policies to better help the postdoctoral community.

  34. I do think we need a new Post-doc program with the goals of the Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRATIn) Program that instead of being restricted to the Intramural program is directed to the Extra-mural community (PRATEx). A combination of a new PRATEx program to train multiple post-docs at an MSI/RI partnership would go a long way toward increasing representation in the professoriate. The PRATEx in combination with MOSAIC could be a big winner. We have had good success with the IRACDA participants applying for K99 awards.

    1. 1- End the payback agreement penalties for postdoctoral training grants! Interesting that predoc F’s don’t have to worry about this.
      2- Increase the salary!

  35. I completely agree with these suggestions.. especially the discussion of low salaries.. if these changes are applied in next year’s program, it will be great

  36. The salaries inhibit recruitment of diverse candidates, particularly those from low-income backgrounds (i.e., first-generation college graduates).

    As with most PhDs, those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have already assumed thousands in costs for their education, foregone salary/etc in lieu of higher education, and their next step (postdoctoral fellowship) only offers compensation that is ~50% of what they could make in the field.

    However, NIH must remember that candidates from low-income backgrounds are (likely) the most educated person in their family. And that prospective candidate has (by far) the greatest earning potential of any member of their family (who, remember, are struggling economically).

    The current compensation structure for pre-/postdoctoral fellows is the largest impediment to recruiting a diverse workforce. In reality, we cannot simultaneously: (1) recruit a diverse workforce; and (2) offer recruits drastically below-market compensation. Those are in direct contradiction of each other.

  37. There are several factors that affect postdocs:
    1) as everyone is mentioning: salary. Postdocs do not make enough money to have a normal professional / adult life, and most institutions expect you to still lead a student style life of cheap food, run down car, rent a studio or have a bunch of roommates. However, most postdocs are on the late 20’s early 30’s at best, they have families or are trying to start a family, and it’s impossible.
    2) work life balance expectations: a lot of postdocs are expected to work as much as a grad student or more. Some are even expected to work 60h/week for a supposed 40h / week salary, with no extra hours compensation. And if you don’t, you can have your name removed from a paper, get bullied or even fired.
    3) being held hostage through visa: a lot of postdocs are internationals and the main reason is visa requirements. Because of this, many PI’s keep their postdocs for way longer than the recommended time (I know people that have been postdocs in the same lab for 7 years or more ). This is unreasonable and immoral. If the postdoc and the mentor both work towards a good and healthy work relationship, a successful could be completed in 3-4 years tops. And it would benefit both parties.
    4) extra duties put on postdoc: I’ve heard too many times of postdocs that run the whole lab for years while the mentor is barely present. This gives the impression that the postdoc is hired to do a large portion of the PI’s duties but gets non of the recognition nor the compensation he/she would deserve for it.

    As someone told me once: we are professional workers, we hold PhDs… we should be treated as such in all aspects of our work. Treat us as you would have liked to be treated, both monetarily, professional and personally.

  38. As an international post-doc, I think the NIH needs to consider the following policies changes that will enable high retention rates within academia:

    1) We see a lot of locals (US citizens and Green card holders) leaving academia for industry positions simply for better pay. NIH needs to make post-doc pay more competitive, especially with the current inflation within the economy.

    2) Another thing of interest to most international post-docs is stability. The majority of the post-docs in the US today are international. They want to be able to continue their work and progress in their academic careers, but there is no pathway to immigration settlement, hence many eventually leave for Canada or Europe, taking all the training and investments made on them by the US, when the US clearly paid for them and also needs such expertise with all the shortages going on. They are adding value to US academic community as well as the economy.

    3) A lot of grants available to Post-docs are restricted to only US-Citizens and Green card holders, hence they are unable to apply for grants to support their work, despite all grant training workshops and seminars offered by their host institutions, its all wasted.

    If these issues can be addressed, I think this would make attracting the best hands from all over the world to come to join the scientific community in the US and help push it forward. Advancement within the US tech space is a good example of this.

    In closing, Google’s MD/CEO is from India, it will be eons to come before an international post-doc can aspire to be an NIH director or something of the sort.

  39. I agree with the many colleagues who have called for increases in postdoc (and predoc, I’ll add) salaries on NIH training grants. I also agree with the suggestion to increase the number of years of training allowed.

  40. I assume the topic relates to T-awards rather than postdocs on NIH R-awards.
    This note is limited to training clinician scientists (MD or MD/PhD) rather than PhDs. It also pertains to medical specialties other than internal medicine where clinical demands positions the research mission secondary to the clinical mission, such as surgery, radiology, pathology etc. There is a need for clinician scientists to advance translational research from bench to bedside and back to bench to solve challenging clinical problems, The outcome of these training grants should not be judged solely by their ability to produce independent investigators, but rather their ability to produce successful multidisciplinary team members or team leaders. Their involvement in research and team science could ultimately lead to becoming an independent investigator.
    The challenges of training clinician scientists:
    – The 2-year research commitment is a limitation given the ever-expanding clinical commitments. Programs seeking training grants should provide a minimum of one uninterrupted research year supported by the NIH and integrate up to an additional year of research with clinical training during the balance of their clinical training period.
    – Increase the salary to be comparable to other medical residents in their specialty at the same post-graduate level.
    – As mentioned above the successful outcome of such a training grants should be the success (publications) of the trainees and their transition as a multidisciplinary team members rather than purely PIs. After all, grants to train PhDs are considered successful if the trainee enters industry. This is particularly important given the length of time it now takes to be awarded an NIH grant and the competitive demand on their time by clinical services.

    NIBIB has such a training grant, but research by a trainee does not always meet the mission of NIBIB. Other NIH institutes should offer the same type of grant to provide clinician-scientists with interest other than what NIBIB focuses on.

  41. I have been an international postdoc for 3yrs+ but I do not have any pension or life insurance. Worse still is that you are not qualified to enroll in the pension scheme.
    I am an expectant mom of 2 toddler, but I do not qualify for even a day of maternity leave.
    100% of my current salary is not enough to provide child care for my kids. Unfortunately, being a postdoc as opposed to being a graduate student disqualifies me from accessing available child care grant.
    The salary is the least I have seen in any job listings.
    We are all international postdoc a in my lab and we spend 100% of our time doing bench work and collecting data as unanimously determined by our PI. There is no provision for actual training and preparation for a career in academia. We work unlimited hours and even weekends. It just feels like we are here as cheap labour or modern day slavery.

    For the last reason above coupled with very poor salary, I am beginning to reconsider going to the industry despite my passion for academia.

  42. NIH should increase budgets on R01s so that postdocs can be paid more or offer a childcare supplement/payment program. With 4-5 years of undergrad and 6 years of grad school behind them, postdocs are at the age of needing to start families. As a postdoc 12 years ago, my daycare costs for 2 kids was more than my postdoc salary. This is still the case for our trainees. Being an academic scientist shouldn’t mean giving up on having a family. Please fix this, so that we can retain women and people from underserved communities in our pipeline.

  43. This is a very complex issue, and while many here comment on salary, I’m not sure that’s completely justified, as post-doc salaries have always been low. This is not new. When I started my post-doc about a decade ago the starting salary was around $37K, so it has substantially increased in that time. The difference was that grants could often fund multiple post-docs, and so labs were vibrant and fun to be in. I really enjoyed my time as a post-doc, even if I had to make less money. There is a tradeoff to doing academic science (non-profit) vs industry (for profit). Also, if you want to do academic science but have a family, it may be more suitable to go to places where its cheaper to live. I found that my wife and I as dual income earners could support a family in Iowa City.
    Now as a PI, my large R01 type grant can only cover the costs for 1 post-doc, but yet it seems the expectation of how much work you can do for one grant has not changed. We can’t be expected to provide the same output as occurred 10+ years ago for the same amount of money in a grant. Furthermore, the amount of data required for a paper has dramatically increased. I see many higher profile papers with 7-10 figures of panels A-M and then another 10 supplemental figures and additional data sets etc. I imagine a lot of PhDs are seeing the amount of work it takes to just get 1 paper, nonetheless multiple papers needed to secure a faculty position and just flat out don’t want to do it. Its much easier to take more money, work less hours, and not be worried about producing these megapapers needed to get a faculty job. To change this we’ll have to rewire reviewers into thinking that a 5-7 figure paper with 4-5 panels each would constitute a strong paper and for grant reviewers to acknowledge that a PI won’t have as many papers on their 5 year grant as before when they go up for renewal.
    I don’t disagree that in some cases post-doc salaries need to be adjusted, especially depending on where the lab is. It’s much more expensive to do a post-doc in San Diego than in Iowa, and that needs to be accounted for in training grants, etc.
    Of course as the NIH and most academic funding agencies are funded by taxpayer dollars, this ultimately comes down to getting more money from Congress, or else we’ll really have to reanalyze how universities/research is funded in this country.

  44. A very significant portion of the postdoc workforce in the US used to come from China. This has changed recently. To quote a colleague from UC Berkeley:
    “We need to talk about how the (NIH’s) China Initiative affects the US postdoc shortage (aka not just a problem for 1 ethnicity):

    1. Senior Chinese American scientists forced to return to China = postdocs no longer need to leave home for world-class training.

    2. Postdocs fear the US as a dangerous place for Chinese scientists.

    3. Ample coverage of the China Initiative in Chinese media = families urge postdocs not to move to US.

    4. Postdocs are well-paid (rel. to other jobs) in China.

    5. Scientists are honored & respected (not distrusted) in the Chinese culture.

    As a #newPI I received 0 postdoc apps from China in 2.5y.

    This pervasive problem affects all US (PI) scientists.”

    Before the China Initiative, I used to receive 10s of postdoc applications per year from China as a junior PI. Now it’s shocking to see a Berkeley PI receives 0 apps in 2.5 years.

  45. After the mental exhaustion and drudgery of a PhD program, as well as near-poverty level of a PhD graduate student salary, I think a post-doc should be compensated fairly for the amount of skills we bring to the position – ie – starting salary of 75K.

  46. It’s pretty simple. Increase the salaries to account for cost of living. One cannot expect to live reasonably well with a salary of $55k in cities like San Francisco or Boston. There needn’t be extensive discussions on this. If postdocs are needed, pay them appropriately. If not, don’t hire them!

  47. For one thing, Postdocs are scientists with very advanced degrees and unique expertise: their salaries should reflect that, and compete with the general market value of their training. Otherwise, what are we doing wasting years in education when we can make more money working at McDonald’s? A PhD’s baseline should be over 100K a year with full benefits (PTO, child support, etc). This is the minimum if the NIH wants to prevent the exodus of PhD over to industry and the extinction of independent, academia-enslaved research. The same thing for MD’s in residency, but that’s a whole other discussion. The point is, once a doctoral level of training has been achieved, the baseline salary should be above 100K at a minimum, to keep up with the current economic climate.

  48. Not only increase postdoc salaries (as mentioned in most of the above comments), but also increase R01 budgets accordingly. It’s not clear how PIs can accomplish grant aims without being able to compete for skilled personnel.

  49. NIH is not taking this issue seriously. Based on this announcement, the working group formed in Nov 2022, it took the group three months (Feb 14) to post this announcement, yet the group only collected comments for two months (“Responses can be sent by April 14, 2023”). How could enough thoughtful feedback be given with such short notice?

    Specifically for postdoctoral training, it is a wrong question to ask if there are enough postdocs, it is a right question to ask if there are enough NIH funded tenure-track positions. Louis Pasteur didn’t do postdoc, Paul Ehrlich didn’t do postdoc, even the author of this announcement, Mike Lauer, didn’t do postdoc. Even in more recent years, postdoc is only popular in limited science fields in developed countries, which include Biomedical Science. All the Biomedical scientists before 1970s and all the scientists outside of Biomedical field moved their research field forward under public funding without postdoc training. It seems that the only reason postdocs are needed is that there is not enough public funded tenure-track positions. So the real solution should be to increase tenure-track positions rather than sitting PhDs in postdoc position for a long time regardless of salary.

Before submitting your comment, please review our blog comment policies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *