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Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs
FIGURE 9-1 Postdoctoral appointments in the three broad fields, 1973–2001.
SOURCE: National Science Foundation Survey of Doctorate Recipients.
graphics for the next 20 years warrant a more aggressive approach to providing opportunities for minority students to develop their interests in science research, and it is essential that such programs are aimed at all levels of education. Mentorship and faculty involvement during the graduate years play a significant role in nurturing students to continue their progression.4 Doctoral and postdoctoral training programs that target minorities are being examined by another National Research Council (NRC) committee to determine their effectiveness on increasing the participation of minorities in research careers.
Postdoctoral training is not a new phenomenon in the biomedical sciences, but it has become increasingly important over the past decades. It has grown in importance to the point where about 70 percent of the doctorates in recent years have elected additional training compared to about 50 percent in 1970. Although not as prevalent, the proportion of behavioral and social sciences doctorates in postdoctoral training increased from about 10 percent in 1970 to 30 percent in 2001. In the clinical sciences, postdoctoral training has been between 15 and 20 percent over the recent 30-year period. The lower level of training in the clinical sciences applies only to Ph.D.s since there are other mechanisms by which M.D.s receive research training. While some M.D.s enter the traditional postdoctoral appointment, many are trained instead on career development awards, which will be discussed in the next section. Figure 9-1 compares the number of postdoctoral trainees in the three broad fields and shows the differences in the level of postdoctoral training.
While postdoctoral training is traditionally defined as a period during which researchers increase knowledge and sharpen research skills, it is also the case that it is a period of employment. For those supported by principal investigators’ (PIs) research grants, employment generally is in a laboratory in which the director sets the work agenda, and the postdoctorate trainee’s work is dedicated to that grant. In such cases, scientific and professional mentoring of the postdoctoral trainees is thoroughly mixed with the grant goals and, as a result, may be an implicit but marginal component of the director’s responsibilities.5 Institutions do not keep track of the positions for postdoctorates paid out of research grants and hired into laboratories and typically do not even know how many people are on postdoctoral appointments. As a result, postdoctorate trainees may not be included in the support structure that includes health and other insurance benefits available to students and university personnel. These conditions have prompted the formation of