"Administrative ambiguity," "low compensation and benefits," and "insufficient training" are the three biggest problems facing Canada’s postdocs, according to a report issued on 2 October by the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars and Mitacs, a nonprofit training and research organization. Presenting answers given by 1830 postdocs at 130 institutions including "universities, hospitals, government laboratories, and private companies," The 2013 Canadian Postdoc Survey: Painting a Picture of Canadian Postdoctoral Scholars found that these early-career scholars were "generally satisfied with the state of their research environment."

Their bureaucratic position, financial situation, and career prospects are another matter, however. Many respondents indicated that they would "like to be treated as employees, and to receive benefits and compensation commensurate with their work and experience." In addition, the report states, postdocs want to be offered "appropriate and relevant career development opportunities."

Those opportunities are necessary because "most Canadian postdocs view their position as a stepping-stone" to careers as professors, despite the fact that most "will not obtain faculty positions." Four-fifths of respondents say that they originally aspired to university research careers, with 69% telling the survey that this remains their goal.  Because of such "academic tunnel vision" in the face of a significant shortage of permanent academic posts, postdocs "seek and receive [training] designed to prepare them for academic careers that few will obtain; postdoctoral training rarely includes the professional skills needed to succeed in non-academic settings," the report laments.

True to its subtitle, the survey provides a detailed portrait of Canada’s postdoc population, a picture that closely mirrors what we know about their counterparts south of the border. Aged 34 on average, 69% of respondents are married or in long-term relationships and a third are parents. Women comprise almost half the respondent. More than half of the postdoc population is from abroad, with 15% being landed immigrants (Canada's equivalent of permanent residents) and 38% holding work visas. Half received their doctorates in countries other than Canada. "In short, postdocs are adults: in the middle of their lives, but at the beginning of their careers."

But those adults are facing economic stringency. Only a third earn more than $45,000 Canadian dollars a year and "many do not have access to their institutions' health or dental insurance plans or are ineligible for employment insurance and pension contributions." The majority of postdocs consider their pay inadequate, and 70% feel that way about their fringe benefits. Their economic status overall is in "a dire need for improvement," the report says.

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.

10.1126/science.caredit.a1300219