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Postdocs Changing the Experience

September 20, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 38

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Credit: PHOTODISC
Credit: PHOTODISC

To many young scientists, working in a postdoctoral position in the chemical sciences can feel more like indentured servitude than a mentored opportunity to advance their education. In this special report, C&EN explores student and university reactions to the challenges and opportunities for today's postdoc. We also take a look at efforts to standardize degree granting in Europe.

First, Associate Editor Amanda Yarnell explores the ever-widening boundaries of the chemical sciences by talking to chemistry postdocs who have chosen not to work in chemistry departments. For example, Yarnell interviews Ph.D.s who are honing their biology knowledge while performing research in chemical sciences. Other chemists are doing postdocs in materials science or chemical engineering departments, and they believe these experiences have worked well in getting them where they want to be.

Next, Assistant Editor Aalok Mehta explores a familiar refrain. Instead of providing an advanced educational experience, some postdocs are treated like glorified lab techs without the benefits or advantages of full-time employment. To recruit and retain good postdocs, some universities are changing their ways. Also, a new advocacy association for postdocs has opened up shop in Washington, D.C. And the American Chemical Society's Academic Employment Initiative is helping postdocs connect with faculty recruiters.

As a special to C&EN, Valerie J. Kuck, retired Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories researcher and advocate for women in chemistry, follows up on a previous paper about academic hiring. She finds that the makeup of academic recruiters' favorite hunting grounds is changing. When the new generation of chemistry professors is hired, Kuck predicts that there will be more women and fewer foreign-born chemists in the professoriat.

Education standardization, from undergraduate through graduate school, has hit Europe in a big way. Associate Editor Celia Henry explores the new "Eurobachelor" degree and the implications it has for graduate education and beyond.

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