Recruitment, Retention and Retirement in Higher Education

Recruitment, Retention and Retirement in Higher Education

Building and Managing the Faculty of the Future

Edited by Robert L. Clark and Jennifer Ma

This volume examines some of the most pressing employment and compensation issues confronting academic administrators. Contributors discuss topics such as: ageing of faculty, changing economic conditions and shifts in faculty employment patterns, rapid increases in health care costs and trends in retiree health insurance, and adoption of phased and early retirement programs.

Chapter 4: The growing postdoctorate population at US research universities

Jennifer Ma and Paula E. Stephan

Subjects: economics and finance, economics of education, public sector economics, education, economics of education


Jennifer Ma and Paula E. Stephan 4.1 INTRODUCTION US research universities are heavily populated by postdoctoral fellows. Indeed, by the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s count there were approximately 30 000 postdoctoral appointees in science and engineering at US universities in the fall of 2001.1 Only ten years earlier the number of post-docs stood at slightly less than 23 000. Eleven universities currently have 500 or more postdoctorates on campus, working in the fields of science and engineering. Harvard University heads the list with 1596, followed by The University of California, Berkeley (819); The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (808); and The University of Colorado (796). In terms of the distribution, the top ten universities host almost 25 per cent of all postdoctorates in science and engineering, and the top 20 host almost 40 per cent.2 Because post-docs are usually recruited by research faculty and funded through research grants going directly to the faculty principal investigator, university administrators have traditionally paid little attention to their presence and, when asked, often have had difficulty in identifying the postdoctoral population working on their campus.3 However, as the number of post-docs has increased and their job prospects for an independent research career have declined, the level of their professional dissatisfaction has grown and universities have begun to realize that the complex set of issues related to post-docs can no longer be ignored. A statistic that communicates in part the emerging tension on campuses surrounding post-docs is that there are currently 50 known active...

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