Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists

This report extends the analyses of previous reports by examining the changes that have occurred over the last 30 years in graduate and postgraduate training of life scientists and the nature of their employment on completion of training. It also suggests reasons for the decrease in the number of young scientists applying for NIH grants. Findings indicate that the training and career prospects of a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in the life sciences in 1998 are very different from what they were in the 1960s or 1970s. Today's life scientist will start graduate school when slightly older and take more than two years longer to obtain the PhD degree. Today's life science PhD recipient will be an average of 32 years old. Furthermore, the new PhD today is twice as likely as in earlier years to take a postdoctoral fellowship and thus join an ever-growing pool of postdoctoral fellows--now estimated to number about 20,000--who engage in research while obtaining further training and waiting to obtain permanent positions. It is not unusual for a trainee to spend five years--some more than five years--as a postdoctoral fellow. As a consequence of that long preparation, the average life scientist is likely to be 35-40 years old before obtaining his or her first permanent job. The median age of a tenured or tenure track faculty member is now about eight years more than that of the faculty member of the 1970s.

AGENCY SPONSOR: Office of the Director

FEDERAL CONTACT: Schaffer, Dr. Walter

PIC ID: 6098

PERFORMER: National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council
Washington, DC