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By Arthur Beiser

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NSF and NIH) do not have a mechanism for counting or tracking the postdocs they support (though NIH is currently considering a tracking system). Postdocs in academia have more opportunity than other postdocs to teach and mentor others (especially graduate students). These activities are important in gaining subsequent university employment, and can be essential for landing a faculty position at a four-year college. Most postdocs, however, report little time (or encouragement from advisers) for activities away from research.

Within academia (see Table 1-1) 272 institutions have postdocs, with the largest number concentrated at the research-intensive institutions. Population growth. The roots of the postdoctoral phenomenon reach back just over a century to the 1870s, when high-level apprenticeships became part of the new European-modeled research institution. Johns Hopkins University adopted the apprenticeship model shortly after its founding in 1876, and in the 1920s the Rockefeller Foundation established formal postdoctoral fellowships in physical science, recognizing that physics had become too complex to learn within the time limits of traditional programs.

Source: Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, 1980-1998. Meanwhile the number of non-US graduate students and new PhDs in science and engineering leveled off in the early 1990s having grown for many years. Overall, the most significant growth in the postdoctoral population has taken place in the last 15 years (Figure 1-1). According to data gathered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the number of postdocs in university departments of science and engineering more than doubled between 1981 and 1998, rising from approximately 18,000 to 39,000 (see Figure 1-2).

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