Action: Encourage institutions and their faculty to accelerate time to scientific independence for all trainees.
NIGMS has long considered the postdoctoral period to be a limited time of additional training for those hoping to enter a permanent research career, whether in academia, industry, the nonprofit sector or government. Ideally, the postdoc would gain scientific breadth and begin a project that could be carried into an independent research position. However, the growing complexity of science, a problematic job market in the current economy and other factors have combined to create a situation in which it is not uncommon for postdoctoral status to continue longer than should be required for training purposes.
While some of these factors, such as a tightening job market, cannot easily be influenced, there are other steps that NIGMS, mentors and postdocs themselves can take to help move trainees into permanent positions in a timely manner. NIGMS will continue to adhere to the National Research Service Award policy of limiting the duration of training grant (T) mechanism support to 3 years. NIGMS will also continue the practice of limiting individual fellowship (F32) support for postdocs in any one laboratory to 3 years. In addition, the Institute encourages postdoctoral advisors to limit the time that researchers are supported as postdocs on R01 grants. Once a scientist’s primary role in the lab shifts from training to research, his or her status should be changed to that of a more permanent position, such as staff scientist.
Promoting the fair treatment of postdocs and helping them to transition quickly into permanent careers requires increased oversight. This might be addressed by institutional offices of postdoctoral affairs as well as through the annual review of individual development plans, which have been shown to enhance career guidance, productivity and success. Finally, postdocs should be encouraged to seek out opportunities in which they can learn transferable skills that may help them transition into a variety of possible careers.