"I want our postdocs to know that we as a nation appreciate what they do," says Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), speaking by telephone from her office in Arlington, Virginia. To show that appreciation and to insure that the U.S. science establishment continues to attract outstanding talent, Colwell says, "we need to reward those who are in the training phase," whom she calls "the lifeblood of the nation."

NSF will set forth its game plan to Congress in its policy budget--a.k.a. "the wish list"--for FY2002, which will be rolled out in April 2001. The proposed increase in postdoc salaries to a minimum of $40,000 per year, if it survives budget negotiations and the changing of the guard in the White House, could potentially go into effect sometime in 2002, according to NSF's budget office. And, at least as set out in the current plan, which also includes significant increases in stipends for NSF doctoral fellows, the boost in salaries "would not be at the expense of existing NSF programs," says NSF spokesperson Mary Hanson.

By leading the charge to provide sufficient salary for postdoctoral fellows to live and support their families, Colwell sees NSF as "the pacesetter" among government funding organizations. Decision-makers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency are enthusiastic about NSF's proposed increase in postdoc salaries, says Colwell. Indeed, the NIH is already at work on analysis of pay rates for its fellowship programs and, although no fixed plan is yet in place, "stipends across the board are considerably less than what we think they should be," says Yvonne Maddox, NIH acting deputy director.

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming round of budget negotiations, Next Wave readers can look forward to high-profile discussions of the pay-hike issue over the next few months. If you want to participate, then take the time to call or write your professional societies and congressional representatives to show your support for the issue: It will be time well spent.