Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How Long are Postdoctoral Fellowships?

For a better analysis with more data, click here.

OK, apologies, chemblogosphere: today is apparently write-guest-posts-for-Chemjobber day.

He poses an interesting question in his "Ivory Filter Flask" post from earlier today:

What is the median length of a postdoc these days, anyways?"

Well, I may have some answers to that question. Looking through the New Hires, I put together a list, and ran some basic statistics*:

MEAN: 3.7 years
MODE: 3 years
MEDIAN 4 years
MIN:             1 year
MAX:            8 years
(n = 38)

It's tough to make general statements about such a small cohort, but I noticed two trends:

1) Disciplines such as chemical biology, nanomaterials, P-chem, and computational chemistry tended to stay in longer postdocs.

2) About 20% of the faculty profiles were in more than one postdoc or other fellowship program prior to their faculty appointment.

Thoughts? Sound right, or wrong? Please let me know in the comments!



These postdocs reflect pending faculty appointments; I'm clearly not counting those who went into government, pharmaceutical, industry, or left chemistry entirely. If someone has a good idea for how to capture that data, I'm all ears.

Counting time: If someone gave a graduation year - "Ph.D. 2009"-  I assumed a postdoctoral stint until their faculty start date. For example, 2015 start = 6 years a postdoc. If, however, they provided a range - "postdoc 2012-2014" - I assumed that they postdoc'd the difference of that time, or 2 years, despite the fact that, depending on start and end dates, that could reasonably be interpreted as any length of time between 13 months (Dec 2012-Jan 2014) and 36 months (Jan 2012-Dec 2014).

Of the 73 new faculty starting in 2015 or 2016 (as of June 2015), I was only able to find bio-sketch information for half. The following people from my list are represented in the above statistics: Li, Engle, Hyster, Matson, Menard, Personick, Thoi, Tsui, Wasa, Blakemore, Browne, Devery, Gahlmann, Kempa, Limmer, Nelson, Sing, Thompson, Bantz, Hubbard, Garcia-Bosch, Huo, Wei Li, Miller, Rossini, Seiple, Wu, Anand, Boudreau, Genereux, Jiang, Sletten, Theberge, Fu, Ke, Conley, Raston.


  1. I would be interested to see the breakdown by gender. My hypothesis is that the average postdoc length for women is shorter than for men. In my experience, women who are not successful on their first try in the academic job market are subtly or not so subtly shunted toward visiting ass/ adjunct positions or encouraged to consider non-academic career options. Men oh the other hand "just need a little more experience" and are encouraged to spend another year (or 3) as postdocs with the additional experience eventually leading to more success on the job market.

    If true, this would represent another leak in the leaky pipeline for women and science.

    But it also matters for women who do get academic positions. When competing for grants and awards (or jobs for that matter) women will then be competing against men who on average have several years more experience as chemists.

    1. Would definitely be interesting to see the gender break down. In my personal experience and also based on the people I knew on the job market this year, I would not anticipate that men do significantly longer postdocs. I knew several women applying for a second time and also a few men.

      My perspective is as a woman, that is closing in on 4 years as a postdoc- several reasons for a long PD- switched from organic synthesis to chemical biology, had a baby, etc. I found that I was mostly interviewing with men that had done shorter postdocs than me.

      Again, just my personal experience, would be interesting to see the numbers.

  2. My personal experiences are varied and dependent on institution.

    From my graduate institute about half the people did postdocs. Most of the other half wanted to teach and went into adjunct positions directly. Some of them have converted to full-time faculty positions, but some are still adjuncts (several years post-graduation). Of the people who did postdocs (including me), the average was about 2 years. But this brings me to my next point.

    At my postdoc institute, I was the only one in my group that was on my 1st postdoc. Some others were on their 2nd, one was on their 3rd. Their previous stints had lasted 2 years on average as well, but obviously total combined postdoc time was between 4-6 years. This was unfortunately common at my postdoc institute, and I'm sure it surprises no one that there are a lot of people on visas there. I know at least one person who was let go because he'd exceeded the NIH number of years to be in postdoctoral training.

    On the other hand, after talking to some of the postdocs in the biology dept, I'm very thankful I studied chemical sciences. Not only had most of them spent more time getting their PhDs, but their postdocs averaged 5-8 years! That's for a single postdoctoral appointment, and some of them had done more than one as well!