The future for postdocs
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This year, we worked with the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Fellows (CAPS) to carry out a survey of postdocs in Canada. With the 1,830 responses, we created a detailed report – Painting the Picture of Canadian Postdoctoral Scholars – which provides unique insight into the realities of being a postdoc at a Canadian University.
The survey results received wide coverage, including in the Science Careers Magazine, Nature and the Chronicle of Higher Education. The University Affairs News Blog highlighted “the uncertain or ambiguous status of postdocs” while Higher Education Strategy commented on the lack of skills training opportunities available.
Postdocs are adults in the middle of their lives, but at the beginning of their careers. The average age is 34. They are almost equally male (53%) and female (47%) and are an essential component of Canada’s research community. As highly-trained and experienced early career researchers, they play a key role in driving discovery and expanding knowledge. They are also the source of future productivity and innovation.
But the survey found three key challenges postdocs face (see graph below). First, many lack clear employment status at university. Some are employees, others are students while others are contractors or trainees, leaving many without access to Employment Insurance or health care. The second challenge is low compensation. Two-thirds of postdocs earn less than $45,000 a year. Third, postdocs don’t receive the right professional skills training to prepare them for full-time employment.
What are some solutions? Most postdocs see themselves as employees at their university, deserving access to benefits. Our survey found they need more certainty about employment status, and improved training for their careers, to ensure their important role in Canada’s research future.
Some universities are already doing this. Queen’s University recently signed a collective agreement for postdocs at the university with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). It establishes a minimum base salary, and provides benefits under university’s medical and dental plans. They also have optional access to a pension plan. In fact, the PSAC describes it as “one of the best agreements ever negotiated across Canada for post-docs.” Other universities have similar agreements, including Western University, McMaster University and the University of Toronto.
What do you think the future holds for postdocs in Canada? Do collective agreements go far enough? And are postdocs being prepared for future careers – either within or outside of academia?
If you’re in Toronto for the Canadian Science Policy Conference from November 20-22 then join the discussion Training the next generation of scientists – who are they and what will they do? Our VP Research and Policy Rob Annan is on the panel.