Survey Overview (2013 Survey Cycle)

Purpose. The Survey of Postdocs at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers is a census of all federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs) in the United States that employed postdoctoral researchers (postdocs) as of the survey reference date. The survey is intended to identify all FFRDCs that employed postdocs as of the survey reference date and to collect aggregate information on the demographic characteristics and fields of research of the postdocs employed at each FFRDC.

Data collection authority. The information is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) control number is 3145-0062 and expires on 30 September 2014.

Survey contractor. RTI International.

Survey sponsors. The FFRDC survey is conducted as part of the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Department of Energy (DOE) provided funding until 2010.

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Key Survey Information

Frequency. Periodic.

Initial survey year. 2005.

Reference period. 1 October 2013.

Response unit. Establishment.

Sample or census. Census.

Population size. 40 FFRDCs.

Sample size. Not applicable.

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Survey Design

Target population. The survey target population includes all FFRDCs that employed postdocs as of 1 October 2013.

Sample frame. The Master Government List of Federally Funded R&D Centers in the United States is maintained by NSF ( and is current as of 2013. NSF maintains the master list by querying all federal agencies annually to determine changes, additions, or deletions to the list. FFRDCs are engaged in basic research, applied research, development, or management of R&D activities, either on direct request of the government or under a broad charter from the government—but, in either case, under the monitorship of the government. FFRDCs are operated, managed, and administered as separate organizational units within a parent organization or as separately incorporated organizations. They receive the majority of their financial support (70% or more) from the federal government, usually from one agency, and are expected to have a long-term relationship with their sponsoring agency.

Sample design. Not applicable.

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Data Collection and Processing Methods

Data collection. On 2 December 2013, before starting data collection, all 2012 respondents were contacted via e-mail to confirm whether they were still the most appropriate contact. Additional follow-up contacts through e-mails and telephone calls were made to the center directors or other staff at the FFRDCs that did not immediately confirm the contact person. These efforts resulted in identifying a contact person for all 40 FFRDCs. On 6 January 2014, FFRDC directors were sent a letter inviting them to participate in the 2013 survey. On 13 January, the FFRDC contact persons were e mailed the survey's Web access information with a due date of 10 February. A series of survey reminders were sent to FFRDCs before the due date and were continued until the last center responded to the survey on 17 February 2014.

Mode. Self-administered online questionnaire (Web) by 100% of respondents.

Response rates. All 40 FFRDCs responded to the survey, and all 21 FFRDCs that employed postdocs provided information on all data items. The response rate calculations adhere to American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) standards for computing response rates.[1]

Data editing. All the data submitted by the FFRDCs were reviewed to ensure that all data fields were completed and that data were internally consistent. Any FFRDC with cell counts that were more than 20% above or 20% below its corresponding prior-year data was flagged for edit verification. In cases where additional information or data corrections were needed, FFRDC respondents were contacted by telephone or e-mail and asked to correct and resubmit the survey data. No FFRDCs required a comprehensive follow-up.

Imputation. None.

Weighting. Not applicable.

Variance estimation. Not applicable.

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Survey Quality Measures

Sampling error. Not applicable.

Coverage error. None; FFRDCs were identified through the NSF Master Government List of FFRDCs.

Nonresponse error. None; all FFRDCs that employed postdocs responded to the survey with no missing response.

Measurement error. The most likely source of measurement error is from the respondents' misreporting of information. To minimize reporting errors, substantial changes in counts and inconsistent data on the completed forms are subject to callbacks to verify changes and correct anomalies in the data. The survey Web instrument was also designed to allow respondents to indicate that they have postdocs but do not have the information about them, which allows missing information to be distinguished from the reporting of zero counts.

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Data Comparability (Changes)

Changes in survey coverage and population. The FFRDC postdoc numbers in 2012 and 2013 are not comparable with the numbers reported in 2010 and prior years due to the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR) revising its postdoc reporting to include only FFRDC contract employees after it was reorganized and renamed from the National Cancer Institute of Frederick in 2011. Consequently, the total number of postdocs reported by FNLCR dropped from 286 in 2010 to 25 in 2012 and to 18 in 2013. All comparisons of the FFRDC postdoc data between the years need to account for this difference.

Changes in questionnaire. To ensure that FFRDCs were reporting postdocs correctly, a pop-up verification box was added to 2013 survey instrument that would appear if the FFRDC stated that a postdoc was funded through a nonfederal source. The verification box would state: "Please confirm that your institution had one or more postdocs whose largest source of financial support was a nonfederal source."

Changes in reporting procedures or classification. Not applicable.

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Ethnicity. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget provides guidance to collect Hispanic ethnicity separately from race. In this survey, Hispanic ethnicity refers to whether an individual is of Hispanic or Latino descent—a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
Federal financial support: Postdoctoral support provided by a federal agency such as the Department of Defense, DOE, NIH, or NSF.

Field of research. The area of research on which the postdoc's research was focused. It may or may not be the field in which the postdoc received his or her degree.
Foreign nationals holding temporary visas: Individuals in the United States on temporary visas.
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity: Individuals of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
Largest source of support. The source of funds that provides the largest amount (highest percentage) of financial support for postdocs.

Nonfederal financial support. Support from state and local government; support from institutions, such as stipends; support from foreign sources, such as foreign governments, foreign firms, and agencies of the United Nations; and other U.S. sources, such as support from nonprofit institutions, private industry, and all other nonfederal U.S. sources.

Postdoctoral researchers (postdocs). The definition of a postdoc varies by institution. Respondents were instructed to use their institution's definition of a postdoc. NSF defines a postdoc as meeting both of the following qualifications:
(1) Holds a recent doctoral degree, generally awarded within the last 5 years, such as PhD or equivalent (e.g., ScD or DEng), or first professional degree in a medical or related field (MD, DDS, DO, DVM), or foreign degree equivalent to a U.S. doctoral degree; and (2) Has a limited-term appointment, generally no more than 5–7 years, primarily for training in research or scholarship and working under the supervision of a senior scholar in a unit affiliated with the institution.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents. U.S. citizens, including those from Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories, and permanent residents holding Green Cards.

U.S. territories. American Samoa, Guam, Federated States of Micronesia, the Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


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[1] See response rate 3 calculation in American Association for Political Opinion Research (AAPOR). 2011. Standard Definitions: Final Dispositions of Case Codes and Outcome Rates for Surveys. 7th ed. Page 45. Deerfield, IL: AAPOR.

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