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A proposal for expanding postdocs' career opportunities

During the State of the Union, President Obama spoke about the need to improve the quality of science and math education, as well as investing in scientific research to foster innovation in the United States. But what about capitalizing on the scientific talent available today?

A recent opinion piece in Nature touches on this question and suggests that one possibility is creating more options within the career structure for scientific research in universities, particularly in the life sciences. Author Jennifer Rohn argues that doing so would provide continuity in labs, increase research efficiency and safeguard against squandering scientific talent. She writes:

An alternative career structure within science that professionalizes mature postdocs would be better. Permanent research staff positions could be generated and filled with talented and experienced postdocs who do not want to, or cannot, lead a research team - a job that, after all, requires a different skill set. Every academic lab could employ a few of these staff along with a reduced number of trainees. Although the permanent staff would cost more, there would be fewer needed: a researcher with 10-20 years experience is probably at least twice as efficient as a green trainee. Academic labs could thus become smaller, streamlined and more efficient. The slightly fewer trainees in the pool would work in the knowledge that their career prospects are brighter, and that the system that trains them wants to nurture them, not suck them dry and spit them out.

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