Skipping the Postdoc

Dr. Francis Collins, noted geneticist and Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States, recently announced a new program aimed at helping young scientists transition into faculty positions much more quickly than typically possible. Under the Early Independence Award Program, currently in pilot stages, a small number of individuals will be awarded with grants that enable them to start their own laboratories immediately after earning their PhDs, essentially allowing these individuals to skip the postdoctoral stage of their research career.

It seems that Dr. Collins believes that, for at least some researchers, a lengthy postdoctoral training period with limited opportunity for complete independence can stifle creativity and risk-taking, which may impede scientific progress in general. Take the most promising of young scientists, push them out of the nest early, and see what happens. Perhaps they might be able to turn their ideas into successful research programs while sidestepping the arduous journey the rest of us take toward research independence.

Although the details have not fully been revealed, it appears that the award recipients would not be headed directly into tenure-track positions, but rather temporary positions existing for the duration of the granting period (5 years). Maybe the hiring institutions would be willing to offer a tenure-track position after the grant expires if they are happy with the researcher’s productivity and fit within the department. Or maybe the award recipient would need to enter into the traditional job search process to secure a more permanent position after the funding has ended. If the latter is the case, would not this temporary position be somewhat similar to a traditional postdoctoral position, albeit with better funding and greater freedom?

Katherine Akers is a postdoctoral research fellow in Neurosciences and Mental Health at the Hospital for Sick Children and the Officer of External Relations for the University of Toronto Postdoctoral Association. She received her PhD in Psychology from the University of New Mexico.