What’s in a name?

Michael D. Schaller, Gary McDowell, André Porter, Dorothy Shippen, Katherine L. Friedman, Matthew S. Gentry, Tricia R. Serio, Wesley I. Sundquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Numerous concerns have been raised about the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise in the United States. Improving the postdoctoral training experience is seen as a priority in addressing these concerns, but even identifying who the postdocs are is made difficult by the multitude of different job titles they can carry. Here, we summarize the detrimental effects that current employment structures have on training, compensation and benefits for postdocs, and argue that academic research institutions should standardize the categorization and treatment of postdocs. We also present brief case studies of two institutions that have addressed these challenges and can provide models for other institutions attempting to enhance their postdoctoral workforces and improve the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32437
StatePublished - Oct 24 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A supplementary stipend policy should be established to provide funds to cover any benefits that are not supported by certain grants (e.g. health insurance, retirement plan contributions (if provided)), and tax benefits, to ensure equal support for externally and internally funded positions. These funds should be paid by the supervising PI through their source funding. If benefit support is commensurate with established institutional policy, grant dollars received from federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health can be used to cover benefits for US citizen and green card holders (PAPPG X.B.1.b; NIHGPS Due to Visa regulations, federal grant funds cannot provide direct support for H1B Visa holders, thus, an institutional plan for covering benefits is required in these cases. Institutions that support postdocs through Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Awards are not allowed to request additional funds or charge fellows to cover benefits, although fellows can request that the institution deduct benefit costs from his/her stipend. Term limits should be set for each position, with performance and appointments evaluated annually. Annual evaluations should be conducted by the institution’s postdoctoral affairs office or equivalent and human resources, in collaboration with supervising PIs. Strict term and renewal limits should be enforced by human resources. Appointments approaching the end of their terms should be rejected for renewal and the postdoctoral affairs office should work closely with the postdocs to identify career options. The Research Scholar position should have higher salaries and increased benefits (including retirement). These limits will allow retention and promotion of personnel from one position to the next, while facilitating career advancement. All scholars should submit a mentoring/professional development plan annually. These plans should be reviewed and approved by the institution’s postdoctoral affairs office or equivalent, in collaboration with supervising PIs to ensure adherence, progress and effectiveness of each plan.

Funding Information:
GM is supported by a grant to the Future of Research from the Open Philanthropy Project. MSG is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Career MCB1252345). DES is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 GM065383) and the National Science Foundation (MCB1518817). WIS receives funding from the National Institutes of Health (R37 AI51174, P50 08245, and GM112080).

Publisher Copyright:
© Schaller et al.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)


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