Funding organizations can play an important role in promoting the educational component of the research they fund. This role includes the support of career development and guidance to supplement scientific and technical training.
One of the most frequent complaints from postdocs is the low level of compensation provided by funding organizations relative to the skills and experience of the postdoc.
Many funding levels, especially in the life sciences, reflect the model pay scale used by the NIH for its NRSAs, which provide a stipend for first-year trainees of $26,256. The NIH and NSF should recognize that they have a de facto role in setting stipend levels that are followed by others and develop criteria by which to adjust these levels.
The underlying assumption of most traineeships or fellowships is that the postdoctoral scholar receives, in addition to the stipend, both technical instruction and career guidance that can lead to improved abilities and career satisfaction in the future. Funding organizations can work toward ensuring that the acquisition of career skills and career development is indeed part of the postdoctoral experience.
Most postdocs are paid directly as employees on a PIs research grant. The NIH and other funding organizations have few mechanisms to monitor the experience of these postdocs, and they tend to regard the administration of research grants as the institution's responsibility.
Funding organizations can promote good oversight and guidance of postdocs through requests for mentoring information on proposal forms, promotion of mentoring committees, limits on the length of appointments, support for health care benefits, and support of teaching activities by postdocs.