Postdoc Hiring and Recruitment at MIT

During the month of July 2020, the MIT Postdoctoral Association (PDA) administered a survey to learn more about how postdocs across MIT found their position at the institute. This survey was conducted by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee with the initial goal of examining the impact hiring and recruiting has on the diversity of the postdoc population at MIT. This initial study was limited by the fact that the number of responses was too low in any individual department to deeply examine the relationship between postdoc hiring practices and diversity, given the significant differences between fields. However, this survey sheds light on one of the most opaque transitions in academia, and we publish the results here for everyone to learn how postdocs have obtained positions at MIT. We hope that these results inspire other institutions to examine how postdocs are hired and recruited, and consider ways to improve the inclusivity, equity, and transparency of the process.

We include several relevant figures on this website, but encourage you to download the full report here

Postdoc Demographics at MIT

Postdocs at MIT come from a wide range of countries (>65% of postdocs are international), however the overall population remains heavily male (74%) and the number of underrepresented minority (URM) postdocs (<2%) continues to be extremely low even compared with the national postdoc population. MIT defines underrepresented minority as a U.S. Citizen who self-identifies as Black/African-American, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander. These metrics are summarized in the  figure below for the most recent year where national data was available. Postdoc demographics at MIT have been relatively unchanged for the last decade and more information can be found on the Institutional Research website.  While underrepresentation may result from many important factors including deep systemic issues within academia and lack of support at the institute, it is well established that hiring and recruitment processes are subject to biases and inherent inequity which could manifest in the demographic trends observed. Though hiring and admissions processes are studied and tracked closely for most other transitions within academia and industry, postdoc hiring at MIT is generally done with 1) no oversight, 2) no formal tracking of how postdocs are hired or recruited, 3) no established best practices for how positions should be advertised or candidates should be chosen, and 4) no standard inclusivity training for those who are making hiring decisions. Consequently, all that is known about the postdoc hiring and recruitment process is anecdotal, and varies dramatically depending on the individual’s circumstances. This information is, however, critical in determining how and why baseline demographic metrics have not changed over time for postdocs at the institute. Critically, not understanding the underlying issues which lead to the demographics of postdocs at MIT makes it impossible to solve the problems that exist in academia broadly, since many faculty candidates are sourced from this postdoc pool. 

A summary of the diversity of postdocs at MIT,
Figure 1: a) MIT postdoc demographics in 2018, from Institutional Research ( b) National science and engineering postdoc demographics, from NSF (


To learn more about how postdocs across MIT found their position at the institute, the MIT Postdoctoral Association (PDA) administered a survey during the month of July 2020. The PDA administered this initial survey with two primary questions to answer:

1. How do postdocs, on average, find their position?
2. Are there trends in how postdocs are hired by underrepresented minority (URM) status, gender, department, or country of origin?

Ultimately, this information is sought to learn whether we are hiring postdocs in a way that is equitable and accessible to a diverse pool of applicants, and will result in MIT recruiting the most qualified candidates to advance its research mission. Through conducting this survey, we have established an initial understanding of the postdoc hiring processes at MIT, tested questions that can be asked in future surveys, and developed metrics that MIT should track as a matter of policy in the future. It is our hope that this survey will be the first of many surveys and data collection efforts aimed at improving transparency, equity, and inclusivity within the postdoc hiring process at MIT and in academia more broadly. 

The survey received 315 responses, representing 20% of the approximately 1,500 postdocs at MIT. The full report includes a detailed breakdown of the survey, analysis methodology, and respondents.

Primary Survey Results

How did postdocs obtain their position?

The figure below summarizes the primary method postdocs used to obtain their postdoc position across the institute. While all possible routes are potentially successful, the majority of postdocs (42.0%) were able to obtain a position through a cold call or email, without necessarily having a previous connection. A cold call/email was also much more frequently used than an application to a job posting, likely reflecting the large fraction of positions which are not advertised publicly. The next most common routes to obtaining a postdoc position were warm connection/introduction (25.3%), previous work connection (12.5%), and networking/conference (6.1%). Combining these categories, 44% of postdocs obtained their position through interpersonal connections. The responses to this question are broken down by department  in the subsequent figure. The  full report contains a more detailed analysis of these results. 

Summary of how postdocs obtained their position across MIT
Breakdown of how postdocs obtained their position by department.
Breakdown of how postdocs obtained their position as fraction of responses in each department with more than 5 responses to the survey, n is the number of responses.

How far ahead of time do postdocs confirm their position?

The figure below indicates that more than 70% of postdocs confirmed their position within six months of their start date, with another 23.5% confirming between six months and one year beforehand. When broken down by department, Physics is the largest outlier, having slightly longer times before the start date. There are not pronounced differences in this question by race, gender, or international status. Surprisingly, a postdoc’s prior authorization to work in the U.S. also has little effect on this question, except that almost no postdocs without prior authorization started the same month as the position was confirmed.

Summary of how long before starting a postdoc obtained their position
Summary of how long before starting the postdoc confirmed their position across MIT, and broken down by department.

For more information, we encourage you to read the full report here. If you have any questions, please reach out to the chair of the DE&I Committee,