• Sara Rimer

    Senior Contributing Editor

    Sara Rimer

    Sara Rimer spent 26 years as a reporter at the New York Times, where she wrote about education, the death penalty, immigration, and aging in America, and was the New England bureau chief. The Times nominated her for the Pulitzer Prize. Her coverage of the death penalty was cited by the Supreme Court in its 2002 ruling outlawing the execution of developmentally disabled individuals. Profile

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There are 3 comments on BU Postdocs: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

  1. Being a student at BU, I’ve worked closely in several labs and experienced first hand encounters with some of these problems identified. First of all, I think the collection of data is a very important and I’m excited to see this initiative being carried out to this degree. As more universities contribute data, it will be easier to enact policies that can change the state of the postdoc. I’d like to contribute some of my thoughts here about the data.

    In addressing the salary and length of appointment data, for there to be an average of $49,232.27 and to have 18.8% of postdocs below the minimum of $42,840, reveals a large range of postdoc salaries that is unclear. If the 18.8% were at minimum and the rest of the population were above the average then the rest of the postdocs would be making $7,872 more than the 18.8%. The NIH provides stipends for $50,112 for postdocs after 4 years. For the other 81.2% to be making that much and if BU were sticking to NIH standards then the majority of postdocs would have been here for 4 years. For the average length of appointment to be three years and with such high salaries, I don’t understand why there’s such a large percentage below the national *minimum*.

    For postdocs trying to make a living, looking for facility positions, and working hard to develop their own skills, it’s important for postdoctoral offices to remain transparent and provide support where they can. Travel expenses of $500 dollars wouldn’t even scratch the $500-$2000 ticket prices of biomedical conferences. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, It’s important to recognize the value of postdocs at BU. If faculty positions are getting harder to find from an overpopulation pipeline, the least that can be done is financially supporting the hardships faced during an appointment.

  2. Brennan, Thank you so much for your interest in this article and for your thoughtful comments. I agree that one of the most important responsibilities that a postdoc office has is to be transparent, and I’m glad that resonated with you.

    The data reported in this article and that I’ll present on Thursday includes all postdocs at BU except for salary. The salary data is a smaller data set than the total number of appointments at BU because we do not currently have payroll data for our non-employee postdoc population. It’s hard for me to say how the salary distribution would change if their salaries were included because not all are paid by the NIH and so not all non-employee salaries correspond to the NIH scale (and this is true of our employee postdoc salaries too – not all are biomedical and not all are paid by NIH), but I can say that the years of service average reported here increases if I pull the non–employee postdocs out of that data set.

    I agree that our travel awards are small at the moment, and they do not generally offset the entire cost of attending a conference. Internally within the postdoc office, we debated about whether or not to give out less awards (2-3 per year) that were higher in value, or support more postdocs on a smaller scale. We decided for the first year that it was important to support as many postdocs as we could, and we settled on six $500 awards. My hope is that we will be able to expand this program next year.

    I am happy to follow-up by email (sch1@bu.edu) if you would like more information.

  3. Here’s a big opportunity to help the post docs: “…career goals were you considering?” The largest number of respondents chose as their first choice, “PI in a research-intensive institution,” and as second choice, “combined research and teaching position.”” Teach them, and their faculty mentors, that plenty of fabulous challenges and careers exist outside academia. Professional engineers have known this for decades. It’s fast and can be fun. In my corporate career if I made a bad drug, patients suffered. That set a pretty high bar for the quality of work I led and decisions we made. The genome revolution initiated an enormous wave of knowledge waiting to be converted to tangible treatments that make a difference. This requires research too. Come to the dark side, Post Docs, and see what other lights are actually available to guide you!

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