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NIH sets new postdoc stipend levels

In response to a new rule governing overtime pay in the United States, the National Institutes of Health yesterday announced its new, increased postdoc stipend levels, which will go into effect 1 December 2016. The starting base salary will be $47,484, up approximately 9% from the 2016 level of $43,692 and just above the threshold of $47,476, below which employers are required to pay employees for overtime. The new rates apply specifically to those supported by Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSAs), but they are likely to be relevant to postdocs funded by other mechanisms as well because many institutions use the NRSA levels as guidelines for setting postdoctoral salaries.

“It’s not as much as we hoped,” says Future of Research Executive Director Gary McDowell, noting that the National Academies and other groups have recommended that postdocs be paid a minimum $50,000, “but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.”

Under the new stipend schedule, the annual increases for the first 2 years will be significantly decreased: just 0.8%, as compared to the current increase of approximately 4%. At the third year, the new stipends begin to increase at about the 4% rate. “It’ll be interesting to see if there’s a loss of postdocs around year 3 because that’s when they start becoming progressively more expensive for labs,” says Rescuing Biomedical Research Director Chris Pickett. The pressure of supporting a higher salary at that point may increase the pressure for a postdoc to move on, which isn’t necessarily a bad situation, he says. “It’s definitely important to reduce the postdoc period to get people moving on to their next career spot, especially if they’re doing a postdoc as a default. There’s no reason to stay in a [default] postdoc terribly long.”

The next step, Pickett adds, will be monitoring how institutions implement the new regulation, such as determining whether postdocs will be required to pay more for their health insurance. In addition, McDowell says, more uniformity in how postdocs are identified would help ensure that institutions comply with the new law.

Update, 11 August, 10:45 a.m.:  This article has been changed to reflect a correction to the NIH announcement regarding the date the new stipend levels will go into effect.

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