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Post-docs in Canada – a report.

November 12, 2009

The nascent Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars has issued a worrying report about the state of post-doctoral life in Canada: “From the “Ivory Tower” to the Academic “Parking Lot“.

Based on a survey they conducted in the spring, the position paper suggests that post-docs in Canada are falling through the academic cracks, and no one is paying attention. The picture is not a positive one – more than 6,000 post-docs are working in Canada, with almost 80% of them earning less than $45,000 annually before taxes. Post-doc tenures are expanding (almost 20% of post-docs in the life sciences now last longer than 5 years), and competition for academic jobs in increasing rapidly. Since 2002, doctoral enrolment has increased more than 60% whereas full-time university teacher numbers increased only 20%.  In 2007, PhD enrolment was more than 40,000, 4,800 doctoral degrees were granted, more than 6,000 post-docs were registered, but only 2600 new faculty were hired in Canada. It is clear that an academic career will be impossible for the vast majority of post-docs.

The report suggests that post-doctoral study is becoming a “parking lot” of HQP who have completed their training and have nowhere to go. Unfortunately, but maybe understandably, the report’s proffered solution to this problem is to increase post-doctoral pay and standing, and to increase opportunities within academia.

This seems like a non-starter; though I think improving working conditions for post-docs is long overdue, solving the oversupply problem by swelling academic ranks is unrealistic. Instead, and getting back to the issue of how we improve industrial commitment to innovation through R&D, more effort should be placed at moving this glut of PhDs from academia into other areas of society. As I’ve written before, I think recently graduated PhDs possess important entrepreneurial skills, but lack any sort of experience or exposure to such a career. If we want more companies like RIM in Canada, we need smart people with experience in R&D to be starting them. Helping post-docs transition out of academia seems a logical step.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    November 13, 2009 13:25

    This is a very disturbing report – even though it was put out by the postdoc association rather than a third party. This was because of the fact that fellows have no advocates and no voice but their own. Yet they are the bell-weather for the health of research – especially in disciplines where a postdoctoral fellowship is de rigeur for progression. These fellows are caught in the middle between a hiring freeze as academic institutions lick their wounds and pharma consolidation/down-sizing.

    We ignore their plight at our peril. Not only do we have so much invested in this new generation of scientists, how we treat them will reflect on the graduate students that have yet to decide what to do with their doctorate. Are we simply training too many students and fellows? Is there true awareness of the difficulties associated with pursuing research as a career (especially academic research)? Who will speak for these talented people?

    Solutions? Firstly, there must be more honesty in setting expectations. There should also be more preparation for alternatives to academic or laboratory jobs. There should also be fellow-directed funding that is portable with the fellow. I doubt the tri-councils will want to address this, however. Instead, they are advocating more teams and less recognition of individualized ingenuity.

  2. Dr Krishna Kaphle permalink
    July 26, 2010 19:38

    Suggest post doc opportunity to deserving new members of Canadian society. In this way you respect the brain you wanted and also ignite the productivity. Post docs and researchers should be treated generously to maximize productivity which should find place to generate employment and revenue generation for society.


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