Global Postdoc Survey 2017

By LSN Editorial Team posted 06-30-2017 03:06


Earlier this year, we conducted the Global Postdoc Working Conditions Survey, asking postdocs from around the world about the working and training conditions in their country. Here are the results. This is a long post, so if you prefer, you can download it as ebook, find the high resolution images in this powerpoint presentation or access the full raw data in this spreadsheet.

Who responded?

We had 178 postdocs from 24 countries respond to the survey. Nearly half came from the US and a further 10% were from Australia, 8% from Canada and 7% from the UK. While this is too few responses from too many countries to do any statistical analysis of the results, it does give us a glimpse into the similarities and differences in working life for postdocs around the world.



Number of Respondents


Number of Respondents



















United Arab Emirates








Northern Ireland


New Zealand
















South Korea


No answer








The overwhelming majority of postdocs who told us what field they work in (98 of 117) were part of the life sciences. This included biomedical, biotech, microbiology, medicine public health and epidemiology. Only one of the respondents was not in a STEM field – this person was studying art history.


Are Postdocs Trainees or Employees?

We asked respondents whether postdocs were considered trainees or employees in their country and 176 people answered this question. The responses were fairly even: 80 said trainees and 96 said employees. When we break it down by country, postdocs in Australia (15/16), New Zealand (all 4), France (all 4), Germany (all 5) and the UK (all 13) all told us that postdocs are considered employees in their countries. Responses from the US, Canada and Spain were all mixed: 50:50 in Spain whereas in both the US and Canada nearly twice as many people said postdocs were considered trainees rather than employees (56/84 and 9/14 respectively). We’ve only included data from countries with eight or responses in these graphs – you can find the full results in our spreadsheet.



How much do postdocs earn?

Next, we asked ‘What is your salary/stipend in the local currency?’ and 177 people answered, 84 of whom were from the US.

US_postdoc_salaries.jpgOver 60% of American respondents earned US$40-50,000, less than the $50,000 threshold for which the National Postdoctoral Association has been advocating, and less than the amount earned by their counterparts in Australia and New Zealand. However, this amount was very similar to UK salaries and was higher than the earnings reported by Canadian postdocs in our survey.

Of the 17 Australians who answered, 16 said they earned over AUD70,000 (US$53,846) and 1 earned AUD60-70,000. Likewise, all four respondents from New Zealand reported earning over NZD70,000 (US$52,470).

Most Canadians (10/14) earned less than this, saying their salaries were in the CAD30-50,000 range (US$23,000-38,000). Canadian and Australian dollars had equal value when we wrote this report in June 2017.

In both France and Spain, the range was from €20-40,000 (US$22,800-45,600)

In Germany, postdocs reported earning significantly more – one respondent earned €20-30,000 but the other four earned €40-50,000 (US$45,600-57,000).

In the UK, two postdocs earned £20-30,000 (US$26,000-39,000) and seven earned £30-40,000 (US$39,000-52,000).



We also asked postdocs if they receive any benefits in addition to their salary, in particular whether their institution offers any childcare assistance, retirement pay, holiday pay, sick pay or health insurance. We had 170 responses including 82 from the US, 16 from Australia, 14 from Canada, 13 from the UK and eight from Spain.

 postdoc_benefits.jpgIn Australia and France, retirement pay, holiday pay and sick pay are all mandatory and responses from postdocs in these countries reflected this. Australia and the UK both have universal health care and so no postdocs from Australia and only two postdocs from the UK received health insurance. In contrast, almost all postdocs from Australia, France and the UK received retirement, holiday and sick pay.

The US does not have universal healthcare and every one of the 82 Americans who answered this question received health insurance. However other benefits were variable as only 30 (37%) had retirement pay whereas 61 (74%) had holiday pay and 60 (73%) had sick pay.

More than half the Spanish respondents received no benefits. Over half the Canadian respondents also received no benefits except healthcare which is universal in Canada.

Many people are postdocs during the time when they are starting a family and therefore have to pay significant childcare costs if they wish to continue to work and build their career. Unfortunately, no country surveyed routinely offers childcare assistance to postdocs. Only one postdoc from Australia, one from Canada, one from Germany, one from Spain, two from the UK and 12 from the US said they received childcare assistance.

You can find all responses in our results spreadsheet.


How many hours do postdocs work?

Hours_worked.jpgOur data from 178 responses shows that postdocs work well over the ‘standard’ work week of forty hours. Only one respondent reported working less than 20 hours a week, 17 worked 30-40 hours, 88 worked 40-50 hours, 52 worked 50-60 hours and 20 worked more than 60 hours a week.

In the US, only eight of 85 respondents reported working less than 40 hours a week. The same number reported working more than 60 hours a week. Almost half said they worked 40-50 hours a week and over a third worked 50-60 hours a week.


None of the Australian postdocs told us they worked less than 40 hours a week, 10 reported working 40-50 hours a week, four worked 50-60 hours a week and three worked over 60 hours each week.


Similar results were found in New Zealand and Canada with only one postdoc from each country working less than 40 hours and in Spain and the UK with only two postdocs working under 40 hours each week.


Breakdown of a postdoc’s day

Breakdown_of_day.jpgWe then asked postdocs how much time they spend on research, teaching and mentoring and writing and reviewing papers. Of course, this varies from day-to-day and month-to-month and so isn’t the easiest question to answer. The 111 responses to this question showed a huge variability in how much time different postdocs can spend on research and how much time they spend on non-research activities.

The amount of time spent on research ranged from 0% to 100%. There were a couple of postdocs who had no time to spend on research. One spent 100% of their time writing publications or grant applications and the other supported PhD students in the lab and wrote publications. At the other end of the spectrum, 18 postdocs reported spending 90-100% of their time researching.

Eighty-three of the people who answered this question did some writing, which took up between 2-100% of their time. Only 36 postdocs told us that did some reviewing and this ranged from 1-25% of their time. Teaching and mentoring was part of the work life of 56 postdocs, some spending as little as 1% of their time on this and some spending 50% of their time on these activities.

The comments in response to this question also showed a little of the stress postdocs feel in fitting everything into their day. Some of the comments were:

“There are not enough hours for all in 1 day.”
“No option to be focused in mentoring, teaching or reviewing due to the level of hour to be used to sort out problems and set up proper conditions to work.”
“Only research during the day at night I read papers to keep myself updated.”
“Too much.”
 “Almost no time for publications (weekends).”


You can find all responses and comments in our results spreadsheet.


Are Postdocs Being Trained?

A postdoc position is supposed to be a continuation of PhD training, a stepping stone to becoming a full professor. So, we asked postdocs whether they have any formal training program at their institutions. Almost 60% of respondents (100/174) had no training program, only 8% had a formal written training program, another 30% had an informal discussion and nearly five percent reported having an ‘other’ type of training program.

 Training_program.jpg‘Other’ included training in grants management, budgeting, social media, media appearances and grant writing through the university careers office; workshops on CVs, resumes and interviewing; and being given a budget for training but having to find your own training initiatives. Several postdocs from the US took part in the Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST) program which provides career development opportunities to help postdocs transition away from academia.

Some postdocs said that despite their institute offering training workshops and seminars, PIs would not let them take time away from the bench to attend these seminars.

One postdoc told us, “My location did not offer career development resources, but some were available at another campus. The resources were limited to one-on-one coaching sessions (by Skype as we were remote) and occasional workshops with invited speakers. What most people wanted was opportunities to explore other careers through externships and discussions with PhD-holders with experience outside of academia.”

When we break the results down by country, in Australia, only one of the 17 respondents had a formal written training program, two had a verbal discussion and the other 14 had no formal training.

 Likewise, only one of the 14 Canadian postdocs who answered had a formal written training program, four had a verbal discussion and the other nine had no formal training program.

No French respondents had a training program and one out of five German postdocs had a verbal discussion. Two out of eight Spanish postdocs had a verbal discussion, none had a formal written program.

The UK was the stand out country for training with three out of 13 respondents having a written program, another five having a verbal discussion and only five having no training plan.

In the US, only seven of 85 respondents had a formal written training program, 32 had a verbal discussion, seven chose ‘other’ and 39 had no training program.


Career Development Resources and Career Plans

Our final questions asked postdocs whether their institute had any career development resources, whether they considered leaving academia a ‘failure’ and whether they were thinking about leaving academia. We had responses from 175-177 postdocs for each of these questions, including 86 American postdocs, 17 Australian postdocs, 14 Canadian postdocs, 13 British postdocs and eight Spanish postdocs.
Career_development.jpgEven though less than half of respondents had an official training program in place, almost 75% said their institute had career development resources.

Nearly 70% said they did not think it would be a failure to leave academia and almost 80% said they are considering careers outside of academia. This is in sharp contrast to research showing that 95% of STEM PhD students want to stay in academia and may be a reflection of the difficult job market that postdocs face when trying to advance to an assistant professor or tenure-track position.

Their comments in response to the question of whether leaving academia would be a failure show the full range of emotion this question elicits:

“Yes, but i know i shouldn't...”
“I work in a strong research orientated group, we get educated that leaving academia is a failure.”
“In a sense, leaving academia would be a failure because I originally set out to pursue a career in academia.”
“Only because my personal goal is to stay in the academia because I'm convinced that is the right job for me, not because others would consider it a failure.”
“Yes and no. It is a difficult feeling to deal with, you feel the system has rejected you when you see colleagues moving on to full-time positions, but you see other very committed and talented academics having to leave.”
“I love research. But I feel like even if you are doing well in your career, you can be pushed out, like if you get pregnant, it is very difficult to keep up.”
“I don't even know how to write a resume for a non-academic job and it's terrifying.” 

“I used to feel that and struggled with it but now I have changed my mind.”

“I did for a long time, but now am realizing it doesn't matter what academia thinks.”
“But it took me years to see leaving academia as a smart choice rather than a failure.”

“It’s extremely difficult for ANYONE to succeed in the current grant arrangements, most people have to reckon with their economic circumstances at some point - even brilliant researchers have to consider more financially viable career options.”

“It could be a good option regarding the level of frustration we find in research due to the hard competition, the lost in quality of live and the fact of being working in a position without proper supervision or guidance.”
“Thanks to networking I now know enough PhDs that have left academia that it feels natural and reasonable to leave.”


As do the responses to whether people are considering a non-academic career:

"Academia would be my first choice of career. I am open to other options if I get an opportunity based on my expertise."
“I enjoy working in academia but can't be sure that I will be able to get a TT faculty position.”
“I wish I didn't have to, but if there are no professor jobs, there's not much of a choice.”

“As long as I am able to conduct benchwork and help direct scientific research for the purposes of progressing human health, that is all I want from my career. Academia is stifling in the sense that it is SO unstable, insular, and discouraging. I would love to get away from the atmosphere of academia to have more stability, and respect.”
“I will do whatever job allows me to live where I want to live.”
“Academia is acquiring an increasing bias against age, which is leading to: (1) lower chances for me; (2) an increase in unprepared, narrow-minded PIs (narrow-minded since they have very short experience outside their alma matter and/or country).”
“The job insecurity is difficult to deal with now that I have a child.”
“I plan to leave academia in about 6 months. Tired of the lack of job security due to dependence on getting grants.”



If you would like to see all the raw data from this survey, you can access it in our results spreadsheet. We’ve almost made this post into an ebook that is free for Life Science Network members to download. If you aren’t a Life Science Network member yet, you can join for free here.



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