Technological watch

U.S. postdoctoral careers in life sciences, physical sciences and engineering: Government, industry, and academia

AbstractDiscussions about science and engineering postdoctoral researchers focus almost exclusively on academic postdocs and their chances of eventually securing tenure-track faculty positions. Further, biological sciences dominate policy research and published advice for new PhDs regarding postdoctoral employment. Our analysis uses the Survey of Earned Doctorates and Survey of Doctorate Recipients to understand employment implications for physical sciences and engineering (PSE) and life sciences (LS) graduates who took postdoctoral positions in government, industry, and academic sectors. We examine postdoc duration, reasons for staying in a postdoc, movement between sectors, and salary implications. There is considerable movement between employment sectors within the first six years post-PhD. Additionally, postdocs in PSE are shorter, better paid, and more often in nonacademic sectors than postdocs in LS. These results can help science and engineering faculty discuss a broader range of career pathways with doctoral students and help new PhDs make better informed early career decisions.

Publication date: 02/02/2022

Author: Maya Denton,  Maura Borrego,  David B. Knight




This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.