hiring only the top performers.
The benefits offered to nonacademic postdocs are often
similar to those received by permanent employees; they may
include paid vacation and sick-leave days, medical and disability insurance, and family leave policies. Postdocs generally
deal with the same human resources office that administers
benefits and handles employee matters for permanent staff. To
get a better idea of the types of benefits available, look at The
National Lab Postdoctoral Programs Resource Guide, published by the National Academies (please see box to the left
for additional resources). It contains a wealth of information
about hiring, professional development and support, work
policies, and compensation practices at the National Laboratories in the United States.
Some government postdocs, especially those dealing with
national security and the military, require U.S. citizenship
and a security clearance. Nevertheless, slightly more than half
of all the science postdocs at federally funded research-and-
development centers were in the United States on temporary
visas in 20132.
Can You Talk About Your Work?
One major difference between academia and a government
or industrial lab is your ability to discuss your research freely
outside of your workplace. Publishing your research is a major
factor in establishing your credentials, and talking about your
research at conferences and job interviews is critical to obtaining a permanent position outside of the institution where you
do your postdoc.
Industrial research is often classified as proprietary, especially as the work gets closer to commercialization. Because a
company’s intellectual property represents a significant portion of its value, outside publications and presentations must
be vetted and approved well in advance by the company’s legal
or public relations department.
Government labs have similar prepublication approval
requirements and may impose restrictions on travel expenditures, even for research that is not considered sensitive or
classified. For classified research, government agencies sponsor conferences and publications open only to those with the
proper clearances—such research may even be restricted to
a “need to know” basis—but discussing any level of classified
research with a wider audience is out of the question.
Some companies and government agencies help their
postdocs get around this problem by assigning them to research projects that are still in the early exploratory stages.
Because this research has not yet “gone behind the curtain,”
the postdoc can publish or present the results after obtaining
the necessary approvals.
Competitors and Collaborators
Patricia Simpson, director of academic advising and career
counseling and placement at the University of Illinois at
Postdoctoral Appointments Aren’t
Limited to Laboratory Research
The National Academies
American Association for the Advancement of
The National Lab Postdoctoral Programs Resource
ACS Public Policy Fellowships
NASA’s postdoctoral Research Participation
Number of Postdocs Working at FFRDCs
2013 Postdocs (all fields) 1,204 756 653
Decline from 2012 3.5% 12.5% 4.1%
U.S. Citizens and 432 464 254
Temporary Visa Holders 772 292 399
Chemistry Postdocs 180 127 121
Chemical Engineering 34 24 27
Source: Kelly H. Kang, “Employment of Postdoctoral Researchers at Federally Funded R&D Centers Declined in 2013”
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics InfoBrief, December 2014. NSF 15-310.
Industrial Firms Nonprofit