interpreted as such by PIs who pay postdocs from their research grants. They or the institution may or may not supplement the “NIH scale” to raise the pay levels of postdocs.

The NIH defines awards to NRSA recipients not as salaries but as stipends for those who are receiving training. In this sense, a stipend is intended as a mechanism for sharing costs among the funder, the host institution, and the trainee (in the form of research performed and income foregone). The mechanism's underlying assumption is that the trainee receive, in addition to the stipend, both scientific instruction and career guidance that can lead to improved abilities and career satisfaction.

The postdoctoral experience succeeds when this assumption is shared by all parties and when oversight and guidance are adequate. The experience does not succeed when the educational component is weak and when the stipend becomes, by default, the only compensation for a postdoc's contributions to the program.

The NIH, NSF, and other funding organizations do not use a particular benchmark to establish stipend levels. According to NIH officials, the recent increase in stipends resulted from a substantial rise in agency funding and a general feeling that stipends were too low (before October 1998, postdoc stipends began at $19,000 annually).

COSEPUP concluded during its investigation that present compensation levels are probably still too low for the optimal functioning of the research enterprise. Although stipends should not be the primary incentive for accepting a postdoc appointment, neither should they be a large disincentive; without adequate pay, it is reasonable to conclude that fewer of America's best students will elect to pursue careers in research.

One way to quantify reasonable stipend levels is through a “functional” strategy. That is, the total cost to the institution or professor of hiring a postdoc should not be less than that of hiring a research assistant or technician with the same number of years of experience subsequent to their last degree. At present, it is commonly the case that postdocs are paid appreciably less than technicians with a recent bachelor's or master's degree. Even though a postdoc's compensation should include career development, the primary grievance of many postdocs is that they are treated as “cheap labor, ” even after five or more years of post-bachelor's experience.


The funding source defines not only the stipend level and other financial features of the grant, but also the degree of accountability of the grantee. When postdocs are supported on the research grants of PIs, they are essentially hired to work on particular projects in specific locations. The organizations that provide this grant money (such as federal agencies) award grant money to the institution where the investigator works. Some of this money provides salaries for people

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