FIGURE 1-1: Total Number of Postdoctoral Appointments in the Life Sciences, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, and the Social/Behavioral Sciences, by Sector, 1981-1997. Source: 1981, 1985, 1989, 1993, and 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

Cold War stimulated federal spending and a sudden demand for scientists and engineers. PhDs awarded in science and engineering approximately tripled from 1960-1970.2 Increasingly, those completing graduate school (20-30 percent in most sciences, 50 percent in biomedicine) took postdoc positions to broaden or deepen their experience before moving to faculty or other research career opportunities. The nation's laboratories began to count on this new corps of skilled, low-cost apprentices to increase the productivity and quality of research.

By the end of that decade growth had slowed. In the early 1970s the baby boom cohort passed through the system, recession came, and the government reduced support of graduate fellowships quite abruptly. 3 The smaller pool of graduate students left laboratories short-handed and, partly as a response, the number of non-US graduate students increased.


Fechter, A. E., and Gaddy, C. D. “Trends in Doctoral Education and Employment.” Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XIII. New York: Agathon Press, 1998.


Breneman, D. W. Graduate School Adjustments to the ‘New Depression' in Higher Education. National Board on Graduate Education Technical Report No. 3. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1975.

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