receiving doctorates in science and engineering has declined somewhat from 2000 to 2005. Among doctorates where citizenship was known, in 2005, only about 56 percent of S&E Ph.D.s were awarded to U.S. citizens. Finally, the number of American Indian/Alaska Natives receiving S&E Ph.D.s has declined from 2000 to 2005; the number of Black/African Americans receiving S&E Ph.D.s has stagnated; and the number of Hispanics receiving S&E Ph.D.s has increased somewhat. As a result the same percent—about 10—of S&E Ph.D.s went to underrepresented minorities.

Trends in Postdoctoral Appointments

Postdoctoral appointments date back over 100 years; however the hiring of postdocs did not grow significantly until the second half of the twentieth century. An initial period of rapid growth occurred in the 1950s, stimulated by the Cold War demand for scientists and engineers. In the 1970s, and again during the recession of the 1990s, the number of postdoctoral positions increased due to a weaker economic market for Ph.D.s. (NAS/NAE/IOM, 2000; Davis, 2005).

Postdoctoral appointments can provide benefits both to the recipients and the employers. For postdocs, the position is a way to obtain further training. Postdoctoral appointments in federal labs or industry can be an entrée into non-academic careers. Concerning the impact on the employer, one report notes that “As a whole, the postdoctoral population has become indispensable to the science and engineering enterprise, performing a substantial portion of the nation’s research in every setting. For example, a survey of research articles in two recent issues of Science found that 43 percent of the first authors were postdocs.33 In many labs, postdocs also educate, train, and supervise junior members, help write grant proposals and papers, and present the laboratory’s research results at professional society meetings” (NAS/NAE/IOM, 2000:10). However, it is important to note that there have been some complaints about the situation for postdocs.

According to the NSF, in 2005 there were approximately 35,000 postdocs in academia, across all science and engineering fields broadly defined (NSF, 2007). However, there are differences by field. “In some fields, such as computer science and engineering, there is relatively little incentive to pursue a postdoc—or even a Ph.D.—because rewarding jobs are available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. In other fields, such as biology and physics, a postdoc is virtually mandatory, especially for academic employment” (NAS/NAE/IOM, 2000:14). Table 2-1 gives a field breakdown for number of postdoctoral appointees, while Table 2-2 lists the percentage of doctoral recipients with definite plans to pursue postdoctoral study or research by field.


Vogel, G. Science, 1999, Vol. 285, p. 1531.

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