. "The Postdoc and the Funding Organization." Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.
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ENHANCING THE POSTDOCTORAL EXPERIENCE FOR SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies
designated by the investigator, who may be postdocs, graduate students, technicians, or others.
Such grants to PIs provide the resources for much of the nation's academic research. From the PI's point of view, the grants afford a necessary degree of continuity for research projects and the availability of postdocs provides them with the ability to hire talented researchers at relatively low salaries. From the point of view of the funding organization, the grants enable the performance of research to meet national objectives. At the same time, it is difficult for funding organizations to influence the experience of postdocs (or graduate students) so as to ensure educational activities and opportunities for career advancement. Unless postdocs are identifiable in grant reports as postdocs (often they are not), it is also difficult to monitor their activities or subsequent careers.
The second common category of funding awards includes competitive, “portable” fellowships that postdocs may take to any institution or laboratory where they are accepted. Such fellowships, which support a small minority (perhaps 15 percent) of the postdoctoral population, are offered by a wide variety of organizations, including the NSF, NIH, private foundations, and foreign governments. Organizations that award fellowships can and should track their recipients more closely and influence the quality of the experience more directly. One way they can influence the experience is to inform recipients about best practices and hold advisers accountable for a certain level of mentoring and evaluation.
The most common fellowships are the NIH NRSAs. About 5,500 NRSAs (the F-32) are awarded directly to postdocs in the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical areas with the stipulation that they must identify in their application a sponsoring institution and adviser. One advantage of F-32s is that recipients can use them at any institution willing to serve as sponsor (including NIH or other government facilities). About 1,500 NRSAs in a different category (T-35) are awarded directly to institutions to support the training of postdocs in basic or clinical aspects of health science.
From the postdocs' point of view, transportable funding may provide greater flexibility to gain teaching experience, pursue coursework, shift specialties, or rotate to other labs or sectors. In some national laboratories, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), transportable funding makes it possible, for example, for postdocs to change advisers if the relationship is not mutually productive.
OPPORTUNITIES OF FUNDING ORGANIZATIONS
One way funding organizations can enhance the postdoctoral experience is to tie the grant approval process more closely to good mentoring practices.
As models, some federal grants request that applicants for research grants provide evidence of mentoring ability. The NSF requires researchers who have received prior investigator grants to describe, when request-