BELLINGHAM, WA--(Marketwired - Jan 13, 2015) - Inconsistent training and recognition and limited future professorship opportunities are hurting career prospects for many new PhDs working as postdoc researchers, says a new report from the U.S. National Academies (NA). At the same time, while the postdoc position is often the assumed next step after the PhD, it may not be the best choice depending on career preferences.

Leaders of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, are urging support for the NA's recommendations for change.

The report, "The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited," emphasizes long-standing issues of low pay, scarce recognition, and inconsistent mentoring and career development, and notes that the position is not essential for all career paths.

"While some science PhDs do eventually move into tenure-track faculty positions, a wide majority are employed as non-tenured academic researchers or teachers or industrial or government researchers, or in non-research positions in science or non-science positions," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "That is not to say that the postdoc experience is not valuable to those like myself who choose to leave academia. I had a great postdoc experience. But today there should be more career consideration for freshly minted PhDs."

The report recommends:

  • Postdoc research positions should be temporary and for no more than 5 years.
  • The title of "postdoctoral researcher" should be applied only to those receiving advanced training in research.
  • From the first year of graduate school, students should be made aware of the wide variety of career paths available for PhD recipients.
  • Postdoc researcher salaries and compensation should be increased to reflect qualifications, address slow progress toward increases recommended in past reports, and reflect contributions to research.
  • Training and mentoring should be the core of the postdoc experience, with the opportunity for postdocs to seek advice formally or informally from multiple advisors.
  • Every institution employing postdocs should collect and make publicly available data on demographics, career aspirations, and career outcomes.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, and professional networking. SPIE provided more than $3.4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014.

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Amy Nelson
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