The March 23rd issue of Cell had an interesting discussion article on a growing number of special fellowship programs, or Superpostdocs, offering “newly minted PhDs instant indepedence and enable them to undertake pioneering research.”
Some see the programs as a way to recruit the most talented young researchers before anyone else can recruit them. They are also a way to give young researchers an opportunity to do risky projects while they are at their most creative. “Given that the ‘sweet spot’ for discovery is typically hit between 30 and 50, it is distressing that so many young scientists are not on their own until halfway through this period,” says Steven McKnight, who chairs the department of biochemistry at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
“A generation ago young biologists had their first independent job by the age of 30, now it is more like 40,” McKnight says. “This is our teeny blip of [an] attempt to reverse what I see as a terribly bad trend.”
The author, von Bubnoff, notes however that such programs aren’t for everyone. They’re certainly not for me, a postdoc struggling just to publish as much as anyone. Yet, there are young researchers out there who are immensely successful, and should be rewarded for their brilliance and innovation.
In this quote from the article, McKnight refers to the delay in attaining professorship that has been growing in the last decade or more, as lamented by Robert Weinberg last year. I think the point from von Bubnoff’s analysis is that there still are paths available for the brilliant young researchers of this generation – but the paths may be shifting away from the NIH.