Max Rogers: Harvard/BWH

Topic: Postdoctoral Training
Comments by Max Rogers

Proposed Actions

How can we improve the experience of being a post-doctoral trainee?

Some ideas, although likely not all well thought out:

1) Increase the salaries of postdocs (particularly in high cost of living areas). Postdocs are relatively cheap labor, and with low cost it only encourages the system to hire an overabundance of fellows that realistically have a very small chance of going on to an independent research position. Maybe looking at what industry currently pays its postdocs to be competitive would be a good place to start.

2) Learn from the mistakes and successes of professional degree programs (JD, MD…) on how to/how not to manage the number of individuals in a system. If the funding/opportunities doesn’t exist to support the current number of trainees in the system, restrict the number of people entering the system (ideally earlier on at the grad program level, but certainly by the postdoc level).

3) Restrict individual lab trainee numbers. Except in rare cases, which there are some, labs don’t really need to have a very large number of trainees under a single PI, which at larger institutions doesn’t appear to be that rare of an occurrence. Discourage hiring for the purpose of just to have another set of hands in the lab. Looking into the possibility of how many small labs run by promising new investigators (senior postdocs on the job market) could be funded instead of going toward yet another postdoc(s)/project in a lab with tons already is something worth exploring.

4) Consider the possibility of turning the postdoc into a professional master’s degree type of situation/program. Not everyone will be successful in research at a level required for obtaining an independent position, as such having a defined route that allows people to exit without feeling they wasted their time (or the time/funds of a PI), and instead go on to other opportunities may be better for all involved. This could even be set up to encourage training in an entirely new field (for example: bioinformatics for biology trained individuals), which would expand the tool set/training of postdocs.

5) Perhaps incorporate some sort of largely expanded postdoc funding situation like a modified version of the NRSAs run by individual departments, thus limiting the time postdocs spend applying and reapplying for individual funding. While some experience in obtaining funding is likely good/essential for future PIs, this time could perhaps be reduced/streamlined.

6) Encourage training opportunities and make them more accessible during the postdoc in areas outside of the traditional academic research lab path by exposing postdocs as part of their training (not some side thing they do in their limited free time outside of lab) to more opportunities to teach, collaborate with industry or consulting/investing… Some of that could potentially help financially support the postdoc system (sponsorships/collaboration, reimbursement for teaching duties…). This may also help create better exit opportunities for people that feel stuck in the system.

7) Improve the publication system. Possibly encouraging journals to use a more streamlined approach like that proposed by eLife to reduce the, at times, endless cycles of revision, may (or may not) help postdocs move on in a more timely fashion and is worth exploring. Examining how much time gets used up by postdocs trying to get that “one more figure”, and if that is really productive or could be better spent.