Uncredited work and lack of recognition: A conundrum for Postdocs

Postdoctoral scientists are mentors, and it is time to recognize their work.


Postdoctoral scientists, or postdocs as they are more generally called, frequently feel their contribution should be valued and acknowledged. For the academic job market, they have to put in a lot of work, yet they rarely get paid for it. They are expected to do the duties of both trainees and workers without benefiting from either role as they are both. For example, they must share credit with more experienced researchers and are only sometimes eligible to apply for independent research funding.

Even though they frequently assist in the classroom, they are only sometimes acknowledged as instructors of record and might not be given credit for their efforts on employment applications. Moreover, fellowships, grants, and training reserved for undergraduates do not apply to postdocs.

In many universities, faculty and graduate students must obtain health insurance, while postdocs are not. For postdocs hoping to continue an academic career, this lack of acknowledgment can be a significant deterrent because uncredited work often means less time spent on actual research initiatives.

Postdocs possess extensive training and an up-to-date understanding of the most recent findings in their field. They are frequently the foremost authorities on cutting-edge techniques and strategies. According to research, postdocs in the life sciences outpublish faculty and graduate students for five years.

As a result, they are uniquely positioned to mentor graduate students, offering helpful guidance on navigating the dynamic standards and procedures of academia. Graduate students can gain much by being formally linked with postdocs as part of their supervising team.

According to a study published in PLoS Biology, Ph.D. students are four times more likely to see positive skill improvement in labs where postdocs are more involved. On the same measure, there was no statistically significant impact from the lead investigators’ mentoring.

This makes Postdoctoral researchers an essential part of the academic workforce. Nevertheless, they frequently need to be given the credit they merit. Postdocs and graduate students typically have an informal mentoring connection that needs evident appreciation, which might make postdocs feel overworked and irritated. 

The unacknowledged contributions issue is particularly complex since it touches on other labor-related issues, including gender and race. Postdocs frequently have obligations outside of work, such as taking care of dependents, which might put undue stress on them at this delicate point in their careers. This can, therefore, result in frustration and burnout, which is detrimental to the academic workforce.

It is essential to explicitly recognize and appreciate the value of postdocs’ mentoring efforts with graduate students to address this issue. Along with formally recognizing postdocs’ efforts, this acknowledgment should involve establishing rules to facilitate and promote successful mentoring relationships. Postdocs will become more skilled advisors, managers, and leaders by gaining excellent expertise in advising students.

The study also highlights possible solutions to make the unrecognized work visible:


  • Government funding agencies should include postdocs as an eligible category of coauthorship in grant applications. This would benefit the postdoc, as they would gain skills in grant writing, project management, and leadership. It is also beneficial for research groups, as the chances of retaining the postdoc rise, and for funding agencies, for whom the diversity of their grantees increases.
  • Grant regulations should clearly outline the role of various researchers in a way that accounts for the possibility of postdocs changing institutions.
  • Professionalize the employment of postdocs by ensuring their position is that of an employee rather than a student. By professionalizing the postdoc position, a scientist’s relationship with their institution becomes a protected mutual agreement that incurs more professional security.


  • Institutions often have the power to design postdoc positions, therefore determining postdocs’ rights and obligations. Postdoc appointments must designate their relationship with the institution, notably by removing duties typically expected from students (such as paying tuition).
  • Institutions should require research groups to define postdocs’ rights and obligations on job offers explicitly. They should allow postdocs to be listed as a member of a students’ supervision committee to receive mentoring credit.
  • It should be mandatory that all postdocs are listed as an instructor of record in the courses they are the lead instructor for.
  • Institutions should include mentoring experience in promotion and tenure assessments to incentivize reward participation and personal investment in these activities.

Research groups:

  • At the level of research groups hiring postdocs, principal investigators must be very clear about expectations. If they expect postdocs to mentor, teach, or manage students, these activities should be listed in the job advertisement, including the anticipated required time for each. After making an offer, group leaders should discuss with the candidate if they are interested in any of these activities and adjust the offer letter to reflect their agreement. Once hired, postdocs should feel safe to stick to the contract and not feel obligated to work overtime.
  • The research group leader must guarantee a safe environment for their postdocs.

Furthermore, it would be beneficial for internal policies to clearly define the responsibilities of postdocs since this would enable them to make well-informed judgments at the outset of their job search. On the other hand, postdocs shouldn’t be required to supervise and mentor others if their contracts don’t expressly state so, if they don’t want to learn how to do it, or if there’s no way they’ll be compensated or recognized for doing it. Faculty and staff may need to negotiate with unions and associations to protect postdocs’ rights to carry out some of these duties for this to be accomplished.

Scientists noted, “Proper attribution of intellectual credit is a cornerstone of academic reputation building; in this context, the time, energy, and skill invested by postdocs in the mentoring and advising of graduate mentees must be recognized, as not doing so robs them of credit for the important work they perform. Neglecting to recognize and credit mentoring and advising as part of a postdoc’s job is a disservice to science, research, and education.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Higino G, Barros C, Bledsoe E, Roche DG, Binning SA, Poisot T (2023) Postdoctoral scientists are mentors, and it is time to recognize their work. PLoS Biol 21(11): e3002349. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002349


See stories of the future in your inbox each morning.