associates, they viewed the program as very prestigious. The postdoc was seen as a good stepping stone, particularly for preparing for a government career. Former RAs saw several benefits to the program, including: collaboration (including the range of scientists or engineers worked with), a good stepping stone on the career pathway, and a good way to get a job at NIST. Former RAs still working at NIST were more likely to view their colleagues as treating them as professional colleagues, although this of course might be expected given that the former RAs were currently on temporary or career conditional appointments.
On the negative side, some participants noted that the postdoc was not as helpful for RAs seeking academic positions in liberal arts colleges. Former RAs did note that NIST was not, in their view, set up to provide a lot of mentoring and that advising and mentoring were less common at NIST. They felt that RAs who needed a lot of mentoring or hand-holding did not do well at NIST, but that self-sufficiency and independence were characteristics of more successful (perhaps more satisfied) RAs. Neither described as a negative nor a positive, it was noted by former RAs that some RAs do not end up researching what they originally proposed in their applications.
Former RAs made a few suggestions regarding possible ways to improve the program. Like the current RAs, they saw the salary as a bit low, again in reference to the high cost of living they felt in the Washington metro area. An interesting discussion took place over whether RAs could get raises. They found information on raises to be less transparent then they preferred and some former RAs believed that because of bureaucratic maneuvering they could not get raises. Again, there were different opinions based largely on which lab the participants were familiar with. Former RAs felt that the two-year time period was appropriate for the appointment. Finally, former RAs were unsure of who in NIST was the “champion” for RAs (in reference to who could help them if they experienced any problems).
Advisors and division leaders offered a different view of the benefits of the program, focusing more on the benefits to NIST. They noted the program was a good way to recruit potential employees, try people out for two years, and retain good people. Some participants noted that the program was the “primary” way NIST recruited. They also see many benefits in having the RAs at NIST, including: covering a wider range of expertise, getting research done, bringing in new ideas, doing innovative research, and helping NIST connect to universities.
Advisors and division leaders also offered different suggestions for improving the program. They felt that better recruiting was needed. Participants believed that personal relationships were key to recruiting. Second, they felt that there should be a NIST-wide support mechanism for RAs. They wanted to see more activities for RAs to interact and network. Third, like the former RAs, they felt that two years was an appropriate duration, although they were willing to explore a third year option for selected RAs. Advisors and division leaders felt that in some areas there were not enough applicants. One way to get more applications was to consider opening up the award to non-citizens, although they note that non-citizens face more restrictions in working at NIST. An alternative idea mentioned was to open the award up to green card holders. Overall, participants in the three expert panels felt that the program had myriad benefits to the individual RAs and to NIST.
In terms of quantifying those benefits, there is less to work with. The two principal sources are an evaluation form filled out by the RAs when they complete their tenure, or term, at NIST; and an evaluation of the RAs by their research advisor. (See Appendixes 8 and 9 for the forms.) Neither form was viewed by many as required and was not filled out by most RAs or advisors. Only 253 NIST/NRC RAs partially or completely filled out the final report for a response rate of