Postdoctoral researchers Collaborative and industrial postdoctoral researchers are experienced researchers providing academic focus in a large pharmaceutical environment

Postdoctoral researchers

A postdoctoral fellowship, or "postdoc" position, is a fixed-term research post for PhD graduates. Postdoctoral researchers are an integral part of pharmaceutical research as companies typically hire early-career researchers to apply their vast knowledge of biology and pharmaceuticals to translate therapies from bench to bedside.

The number of postdoctoral positions has doubled since 2019.

1 in 4 postdocs are funded for 5 or more years.

Global collaborations with 127 institutions were identified across 29 countries outside of the UK.

Postdoctoral researcher numbers and duration

The 2022 ABPI industry-academic links survey found 564 postdoctoral researchers working with pharmaceutical industry which is double the amount from 2019 (276 postdocs) (Fig 1). This is the highest number of postdocs ever captured by the survey.

We found that most postdocs (36%) are contracted for 3 to 4 years, followed by 5 or more years (23.4%), between 2-3 years (18.4%), between 1 and 2 years (8.3%), and less than 1 year (2.3%) (Fig 2).

Figure 1. Number of postdoctoral researchers. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. Refer to previous iterations for more information on previous years.

Number of postdocs captured by the survey are at an all-time high

1 in 4 postdocs are funded for 5 or more years

showing support from pharmaceutical industry for long-term research

Figure 2. Duration of postdoctoral research in years. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns.

Postdocs: Global collaborators

Postdocs in the UK

Postdoctoral researchers are an integral part of the pharmaceutical industry. Our 2022 survey showed that 42 research institutes, universities, or hospitals supported postdoctoral research. The most popular locations for postdoctoral research in the UK is University of Cambridge with 35 postdocs. This was followed by University College London and Imperial College London (Fig 3).

Figure 3. Top 10 academic institutes in the UK for postdoctoral research. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Top 3 academic institutions in the UK to host postdoc collaborations with pharmaceutical industry:

  1. University of Cambridge
  2. University College London
  3. Imperial College London

Postdocs by region

Postdocs are supported by global collaboration and are thus widely spread out across the world.

Just under half of the captured postdocs are based in the UK (48.9%), followed by 1 in 4 based in the USA (25.4%), followed by 13.5% based in Europe, and 4.6% based in other non-European countries (Fig 4).

Postdoctoral researchers are based at 127 institutions across 29 countries (Fig 5). Some collaborate with up to half a dozen different partners/institutions. University of Texas, USA, hosts the most postdoctoral researchers outside of the UK (8 postdocs).

Postdocs are supported by global collaboration

Figure 4. Postdoctoral researchers by geographical regions. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Figure 5. Global map of postdoctoral researchers. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

127 institutions identified across 29 countries

Case Study: Postdoc with AstraZeneca & University of Cambridge

Video transcript

Hi there, my name is Lotte van Beek, and I'm a postdoctoral research fellow in the mechanistic and structural biology group at AstraZeneca in Cambridge, UK. Originally, I'm from the Netherlands where I studied chemical engineering and biomedical engineering. This got me really excited about how molecules can interact with proteins. Then I did a PhD in structural biology. In this field, you investigate the structure of proteins, and that means you are the first one to see the atomic detail of a protein structure. You can also use this to study how a compound, that one day might become a drug, can interact with the protein.

My postdoc project at AstraZeneca addresses the problem of how the body repairs breaks in the DNA. These breaks occur every day in every cell. Our body has a whole range of mechanisms in place to detect and repair these DNA breaks. This is very important because if the DNA is left damaged, it can disrupt normal cell cycle behaviour and can lead to uncontrolled cell growth. This project brings together two investigators, one in industry and one in academia. They complement each other very well. We collaborate quite closely with each other. We share scientific updates, visited each other occasionally. And during look down the road to review together.

During a postdoc in the pharmaceutical industry brings about many benefits, both for the individual and for the projects. The project benefits, because I can have input from in house experts in the disease area. All my colleagues are really friendly and experts in their fields. Also as industrial post op, you will have access to state of the art equipment to make your research more efficient and innovative. Finally, you still get to publish scientific papers and reviews and get to attend conferences. Individually I've benefited from doing my postdoc in industry in terms of what I wanted to get out of my career as a scientist. I knew academia already through doing my PhD there. Doing a postdoc in industry gives you a taste of what it is like to work in the pharmaceutical industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed science in the spotlight worldwide and I think that is a great development for searchers collectively. It has also proven how academia and industry can work together to make things happen at an unprecedented pace. As an example, AstraZeneca GlaxoSmithKline and the University of Cambridge came together to help increase the COVID-19 testing capability in the UK. I have stepped up and volunteered to bring my scientific background to good use for our community. It has been an incredibly rewarding and intense experience. I learned a lot of new skills that troubleshooting and innovation, expanded my scientific network, and most importantly made a difference to the community by delivering diagnostic results to patients about their COVID-19 status.

The past years as postdoc in AstraZeneca. That's confirmed for me that the pharmaceutical industry is a field I would like to continue working in every day is different. You are solving scientific puzzles, work together with brilliant researchers, and you have the ability to make a real impact on patients lives. In five years time, I hope to be actively contributing to project teams within the pharmaceutical industry. At the end of the day, I would like to help discover how molecules bind to proteins. And ultimately, we can find the best drug for the best patient group making a difference to people's lives.

Postdoc with AstraZeneca

Dr Lotte van Beek, a collaborative Postdoc Fellow working with AstraZeneca and the University of Cambridge tells us about her project, experience, and the opportunities this position offers.

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