Postdoctoral fellows: A diminishing supply



Highlighting the modern concept of what used to be positions of status are descriptive terms such as the ‘perennial postdoc.’ The research scientists with new Ph.D. degrees in hand that were awarded postdoctoral fellowships have been likened to ‘planes… stacked in a holding pattern’ (E. M. Leeper, Acad. News Rep., 31, p. 3, 1981). In the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology a situation of ‘extended appointments’ for postdocs still exists because of a lack of full-time positions at the Ph.D. level.

The situation in the earth sciences contrasts sharply. Recent hiring patterns by petroleum and mining companies and by the federal government have followed a quickened pace. Geoscientists at the bachelors' and masters' levels are going directly into industry. Graduates in earth science with Ph.D. degrees are accepting research positions in industrial and government laboratories and thus are bypassing the postdoctoral experience. As a consequence, the number of graduate students and postdocs in earth science academic departments has fallen sharply over the past year.