You've just finished your Ph.D. Your dreams of an academic appointment fade proportionally to the number of postdocs in direct competition in your field of expertise. You weigh the options: several years of postdoc work, waiting patiently in queue for that rare faculty opening, or a shift in career aspirations. Where do postdocs go? Today's answer is the private sector. That's the wave of the present.
In the last few years, Ph.D. graduates have asked themselves, "Should I do an industrial postdoc or not?" More and more the answer is yes. Facing poor prospects of academic appointments, some postdocs are following emerging opportunities right to the private sector. Engaged in highly relevant, exciting R&D, postdocs seem to have anticipated the newest trend of industry-university collaboration (made even more apparent with the recent release of the report of the Expert Panel on the Commercialization of University Research by the ACST). Maybe industrial experience is an asset after all.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), recognizing this trend and the importance of industrial research and collaboration, has a long-standing tradition of supporting postdoctoral research in the private sector. Our Industrial Research Fellowships (IRF) program has supported more than 1000 postdocs since its inception in 1980. Not surprisingly, due to the recent surge of interest in industry, the number of applications to the IRF program has doubled in its most recent competition.
The IRF program works like this: Both the company and the candidate are selected through a competitive process. Then the winners are provided with C$30,000 of salary support per year, for up to 2 years. This money is "owned" by the postdoctoral candidate, and, if the job doesn't work out, he or she can, in certain cases, transfer it to another qualifying company. The C$30,000 is meant to be only a partial subsidy of the postdoc's salary, and, in fact, awardees in this program have enjoyed an average salary of $44,000 over the last several years. In the June 1999 competition, the proposed average salary was over $48,000, meaning a company contribution of $18,000 plus benefits.
An NSERC IRF is probably the best way for a Ph.D. to make the transition to industry in Canada. We tabulate a lot of information on our postdocs, both during and after their IRF grant, and have found that, over the last several years, more than 60% have received offers of full-time employment from their host firms. Many of the others have been hired by other firms. But all have gained industry experience that will make them that much more marketable when looking for the job of their dreams.