Selected Comments from Postdocs and Others
Comments to these replies can be submitted via the form on the postdoc best practices page. The following are some excerpts from the comments that have already been received.
The problem resides in the fact that postdocs are in practice hired by the supervisor, not the department or the university and that the supervisor has full control of the postdoc's future. If we are serious about valuing our postdocs we should then give them some independence that preserves their dignity. We should create grants that allow postdocs to choose their research fields and the host labs.
Funding agencies should stop giving out grants to professors who are then going to make the postdoc do all the work. They should stop giving out money to professors who are going to use it to hire postdocs to simply publish and put their names on the papers: "I did my job ... I got the grant, it's your job to get me papers".
The real concern for post-docs in academia, in particular, is the salaries which are low compared to the salaries in national labs. It is a pity that after 8-9 years spent in schools you only make less than what an engineer with a four year bachelor would make.
Many of the problems associated with postdoctoral positions would be solved if postdocs were directly awarded fellowships rather than money going to faculty to hire postdocs. The status of postdocs would increase if they brought their own money. Postdocs would have more control over where they went, which would keep spouses together. Centralized grants would have standard terms for benefits and travel expenses. Multiple postdoc positions without a permanent job could be discouraged.
Furthermore, giving money to postdocs and letting them decide where to go might be a better system to allocate money to research than the present grant review process. After all, postdocs have much more at stake in choosing a good research problem than grant review panels do.
We must address the fact that academia is not growing and every professor produces 10-20 PhDs when only one is needed to replace them. After serving the academic community for about a decade, the excess PhDs find themselves essentially abandoned.
We receive full benefits, but email about career opportunities is sent only to grad students. There are no means for handling conflicts between a postdoc and research advisor, or for facilitating interaction among postdocs from different research groups.
Make teaching meaningful. Have another professor, or if there is one on campus, the center for teaching, come and evaluate how the class went and give advice as to how the postdoc could improve.
I see a recurring theme: we invite postdocs to a "once a year" event. What about the day to day? Are there any coffees/lunches done weekly or monthly? Even if the postdoc has an office next to a faculty member, is that really a meaningful interaction?
It is appalling that the NSF and other major fellowship providers have no provisions for maternity leave. It is necessary to have a policy in place to make sure everyone is treated fairly.
A good postdoc needs resources: always travel, teaching (if wanted). Departments usually ignore postdocs (except to extract overhead); only the supervisor is responsible.
I have never seen postdocs well-involved outside of a group. Treating postdocs as staff is misguided: it's a temporary education tool.