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[postdoc issues]

chelbing at ACS.UCALGARY.CA chelbing at ACS.UCALGARY.CA
Tue Oct 4 14:36:10 EST 1994

In the past months, two articles have appeared in Nature and Science lamenting
the drop in applications for NIH funding for new investigators (Nature 370:
235-236, Science 265: 314 (1994)).  Both articles conclude that there must be a
large exodus of postdoctoral fellows leaving the academic track somewhere along
the line, and question why this is so.  Such articles bring rueful grins from
the postdocs who read them, since we are well aware that progress along the
traditional career path in academia is very different than it was a generation
ago.  For example, even though it is now common for entry level assistant
professorship positions to require a minimum of three to five years of
postdoctoral experience, many applicants exceed this requirement and are still
unable to secure a faculty job.  Additionally, the positions held by retiring
professors are often simply closed due to the severe financial pressures on our
academic institutions.  As a result, the number of academic positions are
steadily decreasing relative to the number of postdoctoral fellows.  The
postdocs, in turn, are spending even more time as postdocs in an effort to
compete for the coveted few available positions.  
	What this means is that in the last several years, postdocs have been forced
consider career paths distinct from the traditional academic route.  For
example, thousands of postdocs have been absorbed into the expanding
biotechnology industry in the United States, and many others have carved out
careers for themselves as teachers, editors, and consultants for patent
While creativity in the career choices of our scientists is generally a good
thing, the disadvantage of the current situation is that Canadians often must
either leave the country to pursue industry jobs, or change careers altogether.
	To our knowledge, there is no concrete information on the status of Canadian
postdoctoral fellows.  We simply don't have an accurate estimate of the number
of Canadian postdocs, their fields of interest or career fates, yet such
information is essential to the proper coordination of research training and
development in this country.  To rectify this situation, we are announcing our
intent to initiate a National Registry of Canadian Postdoctoral Fellows.  We
believe that such a registry will be invaluable for statistical analysis of
talent pool.  For example, the registry will be able to answer simple questions
such as how many postdocs Canada has, where they have come from, where they
gone, and what financial support they have.  Additionally the registry would
help to answer more complex questions such as how Canadian postdocs feel about
their career options, how our female postdocs are faring, and how Canada may
better manage its future generations of scientists, particularly in efforts to
make remaining in Canada a more attractive option for our future scientific
	We envision establishing a listing of all of the postdoctoral fellows trained
in Canada, or trained abroad but funded through Canadian sources.  We plan to
write to the universities, affiliated institutes, industries, and government
labs to obtain lists of their current postdoctoral fellows.  From this
information we wish to establish a database from which a number of studies can
be done.  We will collaborate with established statisticians to design
appropriate confidential surveys, and to evaluate their results.  We feel
strongly that this information would be of great interest to the CFBS, the
Office of the Secretary of State, Science, Research and Development, Canadian
universities, research institutes, government labs, industry, and many others.
We wish to emphasize that this database will serve several critical functions
promoting the interests of our Canadian postdoctoral fellows.  Not only will it
provide much needed information on our current status, but will also provide a
strong voice with which to propose suggestions to the universities, funding
agencies, and provincial and federal governments in order to make the Canadian
scientific climate much better for everyone.  We look forward to beginning this
compilation, and welcome comments and suggestions regarding our proposal.  

							Caren C. Helbing
							Cheryl L. Wellington
							University of Calgary

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