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Federally Funded R&D Centers Employed Over 3,000 Postdoctoral Researchers in 2010

NSF 13-321 | April 2013 | PDF format. PDF  
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by Daniel Foley[1]

Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) play an integral role in advancing the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. The 39 centers on the National Science Foundation (NSF) FFRDC master list received approximately $16.8 billion dollars in federal expenditures in fiscal year 2010, including over $1 billion in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[2] In addition to assisting government agencies with scientific research and analysis, many FFRDCs also provide training opportunities for the country's aspiring researchers and scientists through postdoctoral appointments. According to the NSF 2010 Survey of Postdocs at FFRDCs, 22 of the 39 centers collectively reported employing a total of 3,011 postdocs. This InfoBrief provides a first look at characteristics of these postdocs with respect to their demographics, source of financial support (either federal or nonfederal), and field of research, as reported by an administrative staff member at each FFRDC.

Demographic Characteristics and Source of Support

About three out of every four postdocs employed in FFRDCs in 2010 were men. Foreign nationals on temporary visas make up 60% of all postdocs employed in FFRDCs (table 1). Men constituted a higher percentage of foreign nationals than of U.S. citizens and permanent residents (78% versus 72%). Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, a large majority were reported to be white (75%) or Asian (14%), and the remainder were Hispanic (4%), were black or African American (1%), or were other races or of unknown race or ethnicity (5%).[3] Asians constituted a higher percentage of female than of male U.S. citizens and permanent residents (17% versus 13%).

TABLE 1. Postdocs in federally funded research and development centers, by citizenship, ethnicity, race, and sex: 2010
Citizenship ethnicity and race of postdocs Totala Men Women
Total postdocs 2,725 2,052 673
Foreign nationals holding temporary visas regardless of ethnicity or race 1,629 1,265 364
U.S. citizens and permanent residents 1,096 787 309
Hispanic or Latino (one or more races) 48 36 12
Not Hispanic or Latino (one or more races) 1,005 721 284
American Indian or Alaska Native 4 4 -
Asian 151 99 52
Black or African American 16 7 9
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 3 3 -
White 822 602 220
More than one race (not Hispanic or Latino) 9 6 3
Ethnicity or race unknown or not stated 43 30 13

a Excludes 286 postdoctorates from one center that did not provide a full report.

SOURCE:  National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Postdocs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, 2010.

Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Over 90% of the postdoctoral appointees were supported by federal sources. Nonfederal sources of support were more common among temporary visa holders than among U.S. citizens and permanent residents (7.4% versus 5.8%) (figure 1).


FIGURE 1. Percentage of postdocs receiving nonfederal support in Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, by citizenship: 2010.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

Field of Research

Overall, 75% of all postdocs employed in FFRDCs were working in a science field, and another 23% were working in an engineering field (table 2). The most frequently reported science fields were physics and astronomy (31%), followed by chemistry (18%), biological sciences (8%), and earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences (8%). The most frequently reported engineering fields were in materials and metallurgical engineering (8%), followed by mechanical engineering (4%) and chemical engineering (4%). Only 2% of the postdocs were working in the field of nuclear engineering, and another 2% were working in the field of electrical engineering.

TABLE 2. Postdocs in federally funded research and development centers, by field of research: 2010
Field of research Totala % of total
All fields 2,725 100.0
Science 2,053 75.3
Physics and astronomy 847 31.1
Chemistry 492 18.1
Biological sciences 223 8.2
Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences 209 7.7
Computer sciences 122 4.5
Mathematical sciences 44 1.6
Health fields 17 0.6
Social sciences 13 0.5
Agricultural sciences 1 0.0
Psychology 1 0.0
Other sciences 84 3.1
Engineering 633 23.2
Materials and metallurgical engineering 224 8.2
Mechanical engineering 102 3.7
Chemical engineering 100 3.7
Electrical engineering 58 2.1
Nuclear engineering 54 2.0
Civil engineering 21 0.8
Engineering science and physics 18 0.7
Biomedical engineering 17 0.6
Aerospace engineering 10 0.4
Industrial and manufacturing engineering 4 0.1
Agricultural engineering 0 0.0
Mining engineering 0 0.0
Petroleum engineering 0 0.0
Other engineering 25 0.9
Multidisciplinary fields 8 0.3
Other non-science or non-engineering fields 4 0.1
Field of research not known 27 1.0

a Excludes 286 postdoctorates from one center that did not report field of research data.

SOURCE:  National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Postdocs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, 2010.

Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Data Sources and Limitations

The 2010 Survey of Postdocs at FFRDCs collected via a Web instrument the total number of postdocs employed by the 22 centers—categorized by source of financial support, citizenship, sex, race and ethnicity, and field of research—as of 1 October 2010. The FFRDC postdoc survey is conducted as part of the Survey on Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS), which is sponsored by NSF and the National Institutes of Health. A postdoc is defined by the GSS as an appointee who holds a PhD or equivalent doctorate; whose doctorate was awarded recently, generally within the past 5 years; whose appointment is for a limited term, generally no more than 5 to 7 years; who works under the supervision of a senior researcher; and whose appointment is primarily for the purpose of training in research or through scholarship.

The universe for the 2010 FFRDC postdoc survey was the master government list of FFRDCs (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ffrdclist/). The 2010 survey universe consisted of 39 FFRDCs, any of which was eligible to participate in the survey if they had a postdoc program. The data were collected between February 2011 and April 2011. Seventeen centers indicated that they did not have a postdoc program as of October 2010, which is the same reference period for the GSS. These FFRDCs without postdoc programs were funded primarily by agencies within the Department of Defense and within the Department of Homeland Security. Of the 22 remaining FFRDCs, 21 provided complete data, and one provided only the postdocs' citizenship data.

Notes

[1] Daniel Foley, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (dfoley@nsf.gov; 703-292-7811).

[2] Britt R. 2012. ARRA Funding Raises R&D Expenditures within Federally Funded R&D Centers 11% to $16.8 Billion in FY 2010. InfoBrief NSF 12-315. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf12315/).

[3] Percentages for race and ethnicity categories do not add to 100% because of rounding.


National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Federally Funded R&D Centers Employed Over 3,000 Postdoctoral Researchers in 2010
Arlington, VA (NSF 13-321) [April 2013]


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