Washington Update

NIH ACD Working Group Aims to Improve the Postdoctoral Experience

By: Nabila Riaz
Wednesday, January 10, 2024
On December 15, 2023, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training shared its final report and recommendations. The 21-member working group, formed in November 2022 to "re-envision the postdoctoral experience," presented seven guiding principles and six recommendations aimed at optimizing postdoctoral training and professional development for the benefit of individuals and the scientific enterprise. The group spent the past year gathering data and soliciting feedback from the biomedical research community.

The first recommendation proposes raising minimum starting salaries for postdocs to $70,000, up from the current $56,484, accompanied by expanded health care, retirement, and childcare benefits. This adjustment, accounting for inflation, addresses concerns raised in 87 percent of the received comments about pay and benefits. Shelley Berger, PhD, co-chair of the working group, highlighted the widespread sentiment among postdocs of feeling "underpaid and overworked.” The working group recommended using the term “postdoctoral scholar” throughout this report to reflect the high level of education and respect for these scholars. A postdoctoral scholar is an individual who has received a doctoral degree or equivalent working in a term-limited position of mentored research and professional development to prepare for an independent career, usually in research and teaching. The first recommendation also included a five-year cap on the length of postdoc positions to support career progression and prevent potential exploitation.

The working group also recommends expanding and revising K99/R00 mechanisms to better support the diverse talent pool of postdoctoral scholars. Additional recommendations include increased support for international postdocs, including resources related to visa and immigration; improved data collection to measure and share career progression; empowering diverse perspectives and supporting safe research environments free of harassment within institutions; and maintaining accountability for efforts.

While echoing recommendations from a 2012 ACD Group on the Biomedical Workforce, the working group acknowledged that implementing these suggestions might result in fewer supported postdocs but would contribute to a healthier and thriving academic enterprise. They also emphasized the importance of collaboration with governmental agencies, organizations, and institutions in the implementation process.

Full recommendations can be viewed in the working group’s presentation slides, and the recorded presentation and discussion is available beginning at approximately 2:39:30.