. "6 What Actions Should America Take in Science and Engineering Research to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?." Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future
that postdoctoral scholars (those who had completed doctorates but who had not yet obtained long-term research positions) comprised 43% of the first authors on the research articles it published in 1999.14 However, as funding processes have become more conservative and as money becomes tighter, it has become more difficult for junior researchers to find support for new or independent research. In 2002, the median age at which investigators received a first NIH grant was 42 years, up from about 35 years in 1981.15 At NSF, the percentage of first-time applicants who received grant funding fell from 25% in 2000 to 17% in 2004.16
There is a wide divergence among fields in the use of postdoctoral researchers and in the percentages heading toward industry rather than academe. Recent trends suggest that more students are opting for postgraduate study and that the duration of postdoctoral appointments is increasing, particularly in the life sciences.17 But new researchers face challenges across a range of fields.
The problem is particularly acute in the biomedical sciences. In 1980, investigators under the age of 40 received more than half of the competitive research awards; by 2003, fewer than 17% of those awards went to researchers under 40.18 Both the percentage and the number of awards made to new investigators—regardless of age—have declined for several years; new investigators received fewer than 4% of NIH research awards in 2002.19 One conclusion is that academic biomedical researchers are spending long periods at the beginning of their careers unable to set their own research directions or establish their independence. New investigators thus have diminished freedom to risk the pursuit of independent research, and they continue instead with their postdoctoral work or with otherwise conservative research projects.20
Postdoctoral salaries are relatively low,21 although several federal programs support early-career researchers in tenure-track or equivalent posi-
G. Vogel. “A Day in the Life of a Topflight Lab.” Science 285(1999):1531-1532.
National Research Council. Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of NewInvestigators in Biomedical Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005. P. 37.
National Science Board, March 2005.
National Research Council. Bridges to Independence: Fostering the Independence of NewInvestigators in Biomedical Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005. P. 43.
Ibid., p. 43.
Ibid., p. 1.
Ibid., p. 1.
A Sigma Xi survey found that the median postdoctoral salary was $38,000—below that of all bachelor’s degree recipients ($45,000). See G. Davis. “Doctors Without Orders.” AmericanScientist 93(3, Supplement)(May–June 2005).