Number of Postdoctoral Researchers Supported by NIH Grant Awards FY 2017-FY 2022


In this post we show the estimated number of postdoctoral researchers (“postdocs”) supported in recent years by NIH grants. We gathered these data in coordination with the Advisory Committee to the Director’s (ACD) Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training.

NIH can support postdocs and graduate students through the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program, which offers fellowship (“F”) and training (“T”) awards that are limited to United States citizens. However, most NIH support for postdocs and graduate students comes from non-NRSA research project and research center awards.

Several years ago my colleagues published an “enumeration study” which found that by Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 progress reports NIH supported 29,702 postdocs (see Table 2 there), inclusive of NRSA-supported fellows and trainees. The study was labor-intensive as it occurred at a time when many progress reports were submitted non-electronically and the all-personnel report was not yet mature. Implementation of the modern electronic progress report began in FY2012 with more comprehensive use announced by the agency in FY 2015.

We used administrative grants data, which are derived from electronic administrative data. Data on research staff other than Principal Investigators came from progress reports; recipients are asked to provide information on all personnel who contribute at least one calendar-month per year on any given project.

Over time, NRSA support for postdoctoral fellows and trainees has declined while support for graduate students has increased, especially in recent years (Figure 1).

two panels of line graphs: first one shows number on the y axis from 1000 to 5000 and x axis of FIscal Year 2000-2020 with fellowships shown in line wirh red circles, and training shown in blue triangles. both seem to trend slightly downward in recent years. Panel B refers to predoctoral students, seeming to trend upward.
Figure 1: Numbers of fellows and trainees supported through the NRSA program from FY1998 to FY2022. Panel A refers to postdocs, while Panel B refers to predoctoral students. The vertical dotted lines refer to the beginning (FY1998) and end (FY2003) of the NIH-doubling and to the year of budget sequestration (FY2013).

Table 1 shows the number of principal investigators (not including those on F grants), non-NRSA postdocs, NRSA postdocs, and total postdocs. In FY 2017 the number of NIH-supported postdocs was slightly higher than the enumeration-study-documented number from FY 2010 progress reports. From FY 2017 to FY 2020 the number of postdocs increased (along with the number of principal investigators). After FY 2020, the number of grants and principal investigators continued to increase, while the number of postdocs decreased. To put these numbers in context, recent NSF tables (see Table 3 there) indicate that in FY 2017 there were 21,781 postdocs in “Biological and Biomedical Sciences” and 18,653 in “Health” (which includes clinical medicine fellows). The corresponding values for FY2021 were 20,182 and 17,770.

Table 1: Number of Principal Investigators and Postdocs Listed as Personnel on NIH Awards by Fiscal Year. The number of Principal Investigators does not include those on Fellowship Awards.

Fiscal Year PIs Postdocs Not NRSA Postdocs Training Postdocs Fellowship Total Postdocs
2017 38,096 24,099 4,724 1,209 30,032
2018 40,283 24,954 4,872 1,171 30,997
2019 42,511 25,787 4,768 1,121 31,676
2020 43,734 26,072 4,780 1,139 31,991
2021 44,781 24,477 4,566 1,150 30,193
2022 46,778 23,373 4,578 1,002 28,953

From FY 2017 to FY 2022, the numbers of principal investigators, co-investigators, and graduate students increased, while there were decreases for staff scientists, and technicians especially after FY2020 (Tables 2 and 3).

Table 2: Number of Selected Staff Listed as Personnel on NIH Awards by Fiscal Year. The number of Principal Investigators does not include those on Fellowship Awards.

Fiscal Year PIs Co-Investigators Postdocs Graduate Students Staff Scientists Technicians
2017 38,096 45,116 30,032 29,982 8,912 21,893
2018 40,283 48,308 30,997 31,754 9,169 22,118
2019 42,511 52,292 31,676 33,326 9,510 23,486
2020 43,734 53,885 31,991 34,912 9,629 23,793
2021 44,781 55,634 30,193 34,274 8,731 21,570
2022 46,778 56,640 28,953 35,271 8,559 21,832

Table 3: Percent changes in selected research staff groups, with comparisons against FY2017 for FY2021 and FY2022 and with comparisons of FY2022 to FY2020.

Group Change 2021 vs 2017 Change 2022 vs 2017 Change 2022 vs 2020
Principal Investigators 17.50 22.80 7.00
Co-Investigators 23.31 25.54 5.11
Postdocs 0.54 -3.59 -9.50
Graduate Students 14.32 17.64 1.03
Staff Scientists -2.03 -3.96 -11.11
Technicians -1.48 -0.28 -8.24

Postdocs and graduate students are supported for more calendar-months of effort than principal investigators or co-investigators (Figure 2).

Box plot distributions of NIH-supported calendar-months of effort in FY2022 according to research staff type: PI, Co-I, postdoc, graduate student, staff scientist, technician
Figure 2: Box plot distributions of NIH-supported calendar-months of effort in FY2022 according to research staff type. Values for postdocs and graduate students are limited to those not supported by NRSA awards. PI = Principal Investigator. The diamonds refer to mean values.

In summary, we find that:

  • The number of NIH-supported postdocs has decreased, especially over the past two years.
  • The numbers of NIH-supported principal investigators and co-investigators have increased.
  • The number of NIH-supported graduate students has steadily increased, even over the past two years, but the rate of increase has slowed.
  • The number of NIH-supported staff scientists and technicians has declined, especially over the past two years.





  1. It is very hard to find postdoc fellows, partly due to a decline in international postdocs and partly majority of US PhD graduates don’t want to do a postdoctoral fellowship, a result of alternative career development mentoring at most US graduate schools. This trend will be detrimental to research in US, reducing the competitiveness of US science in the long run.

  2. If postdoc after 5-years should be automatically consider faculty and if they do not have institutional affiliations still they shoukd be made eligible to apply grant without any letter of suport, then it will be fair. Otherwise postdoc hardly get transition

  3. Postdocs are humans. During their PhD years they live a life of great hardship far away from their family and in near social isolation. For the PhD to think of postdoc means yet more years in isolation. Allowing the PhD’s family members to join them for a couple of months every year would help reduce the stigma of isolation and in turn encourage them to take up a postdoc position. Give liberal B-2 visitor visas for their families for quality time together. After all postdoc as all other humans need to fight anxiety and depression. As we have fought Covid pandemic together, so do we need to fight the longlasting side effects of the great battle against Covid.

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