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Survey Finds “Gender Effect” in Postdoc Jobs

by | Jan 14, 2019 | Blog, Improving Human Health and Community Vibrancy

A new survey of postdoctoral researchers in the United States showed a significant “gender effect” in terms of pay and career choice, among other findings.

A postdoc is a temporary, mentored position that emphasizes scholarly experience and research. Postdoc jobs are considered a stepping-stone to tenure-track positions at colleges and universities, and also a path to non-academic research jobs in the public and private sectors.

Photo of Erica Westerman

Erica Westerman

The survey, published in the journal eLife, was initiated in 2016 by a team of postdocs and administrators at the University of Chicago. Erica Westerman, now an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Arkansas, is an author of the study, which is the first comprehensive look at postdoc working conditions in a decade.

One of the study’s key findings is that gender has a significant effect on the postdoc experience. On average, male postdocs were paid $47,678 while women were paid $46,477. The pay disparity remained after researchers accounted for age, ethnicity, years since graduation and other characteristics. “In other words, female postdocs earned less than male postdocs, regardless of type of institution, marital status, parental status or majority/minority status,” researchers wrote.

Men were also more likely than women to have a same-gender mentor, be non-U.S. citizens, and be pursuing a career in engineering or physical sciences (physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc.), fields where salaries are traditionally higher. The researchers found that women tended to paid less than men in all fields except physical sciences, where female postdocs earned slightly more than men.

Another finding was that most postdocs (57.7 percent) want to go into academic research careers, with industry research a distant second choice (17.8 percent). Teaching and working at nonprofits or government institutions made up the balance of respondents’ career choices.

The researchers surveyed 7,603 postdocs at 351 U.S. academic and non-academic institutions such as hospital, industries and governmental labs. They received responses from all 50 states.

About The Author

Bob Whitby writes about bioscience, geoscience, physics, space and planetary sciences, psychology and sociology. Reach him at 479-575-4737, or

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