Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey
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Survey Areas of Interest

Here is an overview of the areas that are under consideration for investigation in our survey.

Demographic Information

  • Demographic info will be used to let us compare the population who responds to the survey to the postdoc population in places that have decent records on their postdocs.
  • Demographic info will let us break down responses by gender, ethnicity, citizenship, number of years in a postdoc, etc.

Expectations and Outcomes

  • Measures of overall value

    One particularly important question is the extent to which various policies and investments pay off in the form of increased value in postdocs. While it is unlikely that we will be able to say anything with certainty from our survey, learning which aspects of the postdoctoral experience are most strongly associated with positive and negative experiences will certainly be useful.

    • Productivity

      Measure a range of proxies for research productivity, including rate of publication, grants applied for and received, numbers and types of collaborations, and self-assessments of productivity.

    • Satisfaction

      Gauge satisfaction with various aspects of the postdoctoral experience.

    • Retention

      Look at whether people are contemplating leaving science.

    • Willingness to recruit prospective postdocs

      Look at whether people would encourage or discourage prospective postdocs.

  • Goals and expectations

    People’s sense of value in a postdoc will be determined in large part by their expectations and goals going into the position. We want to get a sense of what people are trying to accomplish in their current positions and possibly how these goals and expectations are evolving over time.

    A sense of postdocs’ expectations and goals will be useful to institutions trying to better market themselves to prospective postdocs. Also, it will be useful / necessary to disaggregate by expectations/goals in looking at the relationship between perceived outcomes and various aspects of the experience.

The Postdoc Experience

  • Mentorship

    Questions examining the nature and quality of postdocs’ interactions with their PIs and other mentors.

    • Frequency of interaction

    How often do postdocs interact with their mentors?

    • Formal goal setting

      Was a formal document prepared laying out goals and expectations for the duration of the postdoc?

    • Formal evaluation

      Are formal evaluations conducted? How often? Are they useful?

    • Non-PI mentors

      Do postdocs have mentors other than their PIs? If so, what is the nature of the relationship?

    • Miscellaneous

      Other issues. What is the gender of the PI? Does the PI have young children? Is the PI family friendly? Is the PI supportive of alternative career choices? Does the PI help with career advancement?

  • Research environment

    What is the research environment like? For example, Is there a competitive or cooperative atmosphere? Do people collaborate within the department / school / university? Are postdocs integrated into the life of the department / school? Is the department supportive?

  • Postdoc control of experience

    To what extent do postdocs have control over their experience? Is funding portable? How difficult is it to change PIs if a conflict arises or if interests change?

  • Training

    Postdocs are supposed to have a training component. What specific training is provided?

    • Student vs. employee

      Postdocs are often not considered to be employees because of the training component. To what extent are postdocs de-facto employees? What are the differentiators between trainee and employee status?

    • Concrete skills training

      What formal skills training is available / used? Quantitative questions about the specifics, e.g. how many hours/year? What informal skills training is available / used?

    • Courses/workshops/seminars

      Are there formal courses/workshops/etc offered for building specific skill sets? Are people encouraged/discouraged from attending? Is there interest? What are people interested in?

      • Education in research protocol issues such as ethics, conflicts of interest, and outside consulting
      • Communication skills
      • Grantsmanship
      • Teaching
  • Resources and facilities

    Are facilities adequate? Office space, supplies, computers, laboratory equipment.

    • Travel funding

      Is funding available for travel to conferences?

Compensation and Benefits

What are existing compensation and benefits? How do compensation/benefits vary by experience? By gender / nationality? How much variability is there in compensation levels for people with equivalent experience? Do compensation levels match NIH recommendations? What benefits does the population need? Are needs of special populations being met (e.g. postdocs with families, foreign postdocs)

  • Compensation
  • Tax status

    How does tax status affect overall compensation? Do postdocs pay self-employment tax? Are there tuition remission issues? What tax issues do foreign postdocs face?

  • Medical benefits
  • Leave
  • Workers compensation
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • What benefits does population need/want?

Administrative Issues

What policies are in place? Are people aware of these policies? Are policies effective?

  • Status and affiliation
  • Classification

    Are postdocs classified as employees, students, or something else? What titles do people have?

  • Letter of appointment/contract

    Do postdocs receive an official letter of appointment or contract that spells out responsibilities of all parties and that describes compensation and benefits?

  • Letter of completion

    Do postdocs receive an official letter or certificate of completion?

  • Fractional appointment
  • Perverse incentives

    A look at existing policies that may be counterproductive. For example, in some cases when postdocs receive outside funding, they lose benefits or take a pay cut.

  • Authorship policies
  • Misconduct policies
  • Time limitations
  • Grievance resolution
    • What is overall frequency of grievances?
    • What factors reduce the incidence of grievances? Do formal plans and evaluations help? Do misconduct and authorship policies?
    • What are side effects of grievances, particularly unresolved ones, on satisfaction / productivity / etc?
    • Do the same people have repeated conflicts with multiple PIs? If so, what other characteristics do they have?
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Policy awareness / efficacy

    Are people aware of existing policies? Are existing policies enforced? Do they work?

  • Postdoc association / office

    What do people want from their postdoc office / association?

Career Issues

  • Progression in status

    Do postdocs’ status and responsibilities change as they gain more experience?

  • Job transition

    Who is currently looking for a job? What are postdocs looking for in their next positions? Are people planning to change fields? Leave academia? Leave research? How do people know when they are ready for tenure track positions?

  • Opportunities
  • Career counseling and job placement assistance

    Are career counseling and job placement services available? How much do PIs help in finding next jobs?

Issues of Special Interest

  • Family issues

    To what extent do postdoctoral positions influence the decision to have children? Are institutions / PIs supportive of postdocs with family obligations? What are the impacts of family on productivity and measures of value? What aspects of the postdoctoral experience are most helpful for families?

  • Foreign postdocs

    What is involved in foreign postdocs’ decision to work / remain in the US? What special needs do foreign postdocs have? How does the experience differ for foreign postdocs? Do new security regulations impact foreign postdocs’ work or perceived career prospects?