The NIH has released their “Projected FY 2017 Stipend Levels for Postdoctoral Trainees and Fellows on Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA)“. These levels bring the NRSA levels in line with the new salary minimum for overtime exemption that comes into effect on Dec 1st, 2016.


FoR previously issued a statement about it position on the effects of the Fair Labor Standards Act here. As stated in “NIH sets new postdoc stipend levels” published today in Science Careers, FoR believes that the new salary minimum is a good start, but still falls short of the minimum recommended by multiple consortia.


A graphical representation of the stipend levels for 2016 and 2017 is depicted in Drugmonkey’s blogpost, “Projected NRSA salary scale for FY2017“. As you can see from the graph, the NRSA minimum is set much higher for years 0 and 1 – to account for the new federal legislation – but shows little change from years 2-7 (or more). The previous linear salary progression is now essentially static for the first years of postdoctoral employment, albeit at a higher level than currently, before increasing in accordance with the 2016 trend.


There is much discussion about the effects and reasoning for not simply raising all salaries across the range by the same amount as the Year 0 increase, to give a similar linear trend to 2016, shifted higher. It will also be interesting to see what consequences this has for hiring postdocs at different stages of postdoctoral training.


However, what should not be forgotten is that these levels are mandated only for NRSA awards. The majority of postdocs are funded from non-training mechanisms, and the NRSA levels are used often by institutions only as guidelines. The National Postdoctoral Association’s 2014 Institutional Policy Report shows in Figure 21 that in 2013, 51% of all postdocs were at the NIH NRSA minimum of the time. The other 50% were spread over a salary range of $23,000 (the current overtime exemption level) and $80,000. In particular, 10% were at a lower $32-34k range. Therefore while the NRSA scale is certainly a point of interest, it has served, and may continue to serve, only as a guideline for research grant-funded postdocs. For the majority of postdocs, at all years of postdoctoral experience, combined with the requirement that institutions must show compliance with federal law, the new minimum may be of far more significance than the nuances of the change in levels of NRSA stipends.