Published: Aug. 8, 2018

Postdoc Climate Survey response chartBackground and Goals

This is the first postdoc survey conducted at CU Boulder, administered by Institutional Research and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs in Spring 2018. The survey aimed to address three key questions: What are the demographic characteristics of CU Boulder postdocs? What is the social and professional environment like for postdocs at CU Boulder? What kinds or programming/workshops would postdocs like to see? Furthermore, there was interest in whether results differed based on international status (U.S. citizens vs. non-resident aliens), as well as gender. The results of the survey will be used to improve services and inform advocacy efforts for CU Boulder postdocs. Another postdoc survey will be carried out in 2023.

Note. Any differences due to gender or citizenship status are reported below in italics. Otherwise, the results are statistically equivalent for international and resident postdocs, and men and women.

Who are CU Boulder’s postdocs?

According to campus records, most postdocs are men (70.5%). Nearly half (46%) are not U.S. citizens. The average age is 33 years. About 50% of UCB postdocs are affiliated with research institutes such as CU NIST Prep Program and JILA. One fourth are affiliated with physics, chemical and biochemical engineering, ecology and evolutionary biology, biochemistry, and chemistry, and the remainder are scattered across programs associated with STEM or social sciences. Survey responses indicate that 10% identify with the LGBTQIA community, and 20% have children.

What does work look like for UCB postdocs?

  • Duration. The vast majority of postdocs expect to be in their position 1-2 years (48%) or 3-5 years (43%). Only 9% expect their postdoc to be longer than 5 years.
  • Hours worked. Postdocs are working hard—87% work more than 40 hours per week. The majority of survey respondents (46%) reported working 40-49 hours per week. More than one in four (27%) reported working 50-59 hours, and 14% reported working 60 or more hours per week. Only 12% reported working fewer than 40 hours per week.
  • Division of work time. Not surprisingly, postdocs report spending most of their time on research (Mean percent of time reported = 60.45%), followed by writing (Mean = 18.35% of time). Mentoring junior colleagues was next (M=9.34% of time), followed by professional skill development (M=7.15% of time), and lastly, teaching (M=1.83% of time).
    • Women reported slightly less time mentoring junior colleagues compared to men.
  • Workload evaluation. Although the majority of postdocs report that their workload is “Neither too heavy nor too light” (57%), about one in three (36%) described their workload as “Slightly too heavy.”
  • Stress. A combined 43% of postdocs report “A lot” or “A great deal” of stress or anxiety related to their postdoctoral training. Fortunately, 36% report “a moderate amount” of stress and 21% percent report “A little stress” or “None at all.”

Job Satisfaction

The great majority of postdocs are “Extremely satisfied” or “Somewhat satisfied” with their overall postdoc experience (82%), the quality of guidance/mentoring (83%), and the time being individually advised by their supervisor/mentor (71%). Most also “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that their postdoc is preparing them for their future career (85%).

Feeling Valued and Supported

Postdocs overwhelmingly believe that their colleagues value their research/scholarship and that their supervisor/mentor supports their career development (94% Strongly Agree or Agree with each of these statements). Fewer agree that they feel like they are part of the CU Boulder community (59%) and postdoc community (46%).

Items: Feeling Valued and Supported

% Strongly Agree or Agree

My colleagues value my research/scholarship

94%

Overall, my supervisor/mentor supports my career development

94%

I am comfortable raising personal and/or family responsibilities when scheduling obligations with my supervisor/mentor

87.50%

My supervisor/mentor creates a collegial and supportive environment

87%

I feel comfortable or would feel comfortable asking for a flexible schedule, if I so choose

85.50%

My department/unit is a place where postdocs may comfortably raise personal or family responsibilities when scheduling obligations.

84.50%

Overall, my department supports my career development

83%

I feel comfortable or would feel comfortable taking family leave, if I so choose

82.50%

Overall, CU Boulder supports my career development.

77%

I feel like CU Boulder, as a whole, values my research/scholarship.

75%

I feel like I am a part of the CU Boulder community in general.

59%

I feel like I am a part of the CU Boulder postdoc community.

46%

I have to work harder than some of my colleagues to be perceived as a legitimate scholar or be recognized for my work

33%

Compared to men, women were:

  • less likely than men to agree that “My colleagues value my research/scholarship.”
  • less likely to agree that “I feel comfortable or I would feel comfortable taking family leave, if I so choose.”

There was only one item that differed based on citizenship status: interestingly, international postdocs were more likely to agree that “I feel like I am part of the CU Boulder postdoc community,” than U.S. citizens.

Mentorship

  • Meetings to discuss goals. Most postdocs (56%) reported having regular discussions of goals and expectations with their supervisor/mentor monthly or more often. The next largest group (38%) said they discussed goals and expectations when they first started their job.
  • Evaluation of performance. Although the great majority of postdocs (81%) report that they have received some kind of evaluation as a postdoc (informal, written, or oral),19% report receiving no feedback of any kind regarding their performance.

Awareness and Use of Resources

The majority of postdocs were aware of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and the Postdoctoral Association of Colorado. Less than half of postdocs knew of the Office of Victim Assistance, Ombuds Office, Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, and the CU Boulder Faculty Relations Office.

 

Aware of resource

Have used resource

CU Boulder Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

93%

40%

Postdoctoral Association of Colorado

73%

28%

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

33%

12%

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

44%

2%

Ombuds Office

40%

2%

CU Boulder Faculty Relations Office

30%

1%

Negative Experiences

Encounters with negative experiences were generally rare. The most commonly reported negative experience (13% of respondents) was “someone talking negatively to others about me.” Ten percent reported experiencing verbal hostility, and 10% also reported experiencing denial of access to resources; 8% experienced undermining or impeding their research/scholarship, including being denied or passed over for opportunities afforded to others; and 6% were exposed to hostile electronic communication. A very low number reported unwanted physical or sexual contact (1-2%), or threats to employment status (2%). Due to the small number of respondents who reported negative experiences, we could not break down these results by citizenship status or gender.

Choosing to do a Postdoc

Postdocs rated career advancement, increasing knowledge (in new field of study or doctoral field of study), opportunity to conduct independent research, and “It was the next logical step” as the most important reasons for pursuing a postdoc in general. In terms of choosing CU Boulder in particular, the most important factors cited were: Opportunity to work with a specific faculty member or work group, opportunity to work in this particular geographic area, and opportunity to work at CU Boulder.

Compared to U.S. citizens, international postdocs:

  • Rated needing training in the US to advance their career in their home country as a more important factor in doing a postdoc.
  • Rated geographic area as a less important factor in selecting CU Boulder.
  • Rated working in the same geographic location as a spouse/partner as a less important in selecting CU Boulder.

Choosing to do a postdoc chart 2Choosing to do a postdoc chart

Skill Development

Postdocs felt that their postdoc position helped them develop a variety of skills, especially enhancing field-specific knowledge, fostering critical thinking, and independence as a researcher/scholar. The only two skills postdocs felt had not been developed by their postdoc were teaching and interviewing for jobs.

International students were less likely to agree that the postdoc helped them with writing grant proposals.

Skill Development chart

Using ResourcesUsing Resources Chart

In case of a problem, postdocs were most likely to turn to their supervisor/mentor, followed by their workgroup/lab members, and then the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Compared to U.S. citizens, international postdocs expressed greater willingness to seek out offices/organizations in case of a problem. Specifically, they were more likely to say they would use the:

  • CU Boulder Office of Postdoctoral Affairs
  • The Postdoctoral Association of Colorado
  • The CU Boulder Faculty Relations Office
  • The Office of Victim Assistance

 

Programming / Workshop / Seminar Interest

In terms of programming on jobs, postdocs reported the greatest interest in workshops and seminars on academic positions at research universities or with an institute focus, followed by alternative-academic positions, such as research and grants administration, then industry and teaching/small arts liberal arts colleges. There was less interest in learning about government and freelance/startup positions.Program Chart 1Program Chart 2

In terms of general programming, postdocs were interested in most of the workshop/seminar topics, but especially applying to tenure-track positions, interviewing skills, salary and startup package negotiations, and preparing grant and fellowship applications.

Regarding job sectors, International postdocs, compared to U.S. citizens, expressed:

  • More interest in seminars about research universities/institute focus
  • Less interest in teaching/small liberal arts colleges

Regarding general workshops and programming, international postdocs expressed greater interest in programming than U.S. citizens, specifically:

  • Career planning/writing your individual development plan (IDP)
  • Networking
  • Presentation skills
  • CV and resume writing
  • Interviewing skills
  • Finding grant/fellowship funding
  • Preparing grant/fellowship applications
  • Science writing/communication skills and careers

Appendix

Methodology

  • The survey was open from March 12, 2018 until April 4, 2018, a little over three weeks
  • The survey took approximately 15 minutes to complete
  • Participating students were entered into a drawing to win one of two $50 Visa gift cards

Analytic Approach

  • Statistically significant difference were defined as having a p-value of less than .05.
  • Continuous outcomes were examined in regression models with gender and international status both included as contrast coded predictors.
  • Categorical outcomes were examined tested using Fisher’s Exact Test (due to small cell sizes).
  • There was insufficient power to examine Gender x International Status interactions.