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Postdoctoral research associates, or postdocs, make up a small percentage of the campus community but present very real and unique equity concerns. According to the ISU Postdoctoral Association, Iowa State employs approximately 300 postdocs, the majority of whom are men. Because of data categorization in university systems, differentiation of postdoc data is limited compared to other community categories. 

Key Findings

  • Most postdoctoral research associates are Asian men, followed by white men
  • The race and gender distribution of postdocs is consistent across units

Most postdoctoral research associates are Asian men, followed by white men

Between 2010 and 2018, over 65% of postdocs employed by Iowa State University were men, with the highest disparity occurring in 2018 when men comprised 71% of the postdoc population. In other words, the number of women postdocs has remained relatively consistent at less than 35% representation, reaching its lowest point at 29% in 2018, the final year of data available.

gender distribution of postdocs 2010-2018

When focusing on the intersection of gender and race, we find that between 2010 and 2018, over 40% of postdoctoral research associates were Asian men, and over 20% were white men. Together, this means that over 60% of postdoctoral research associates were Asian or white men. Further, more white men were hired and retained during these eight years than white women. 

In 2018, only 1.02% and 5.46% of postdocs were Black and Hispanic, respectively. Compared to 2010, this reflects a 100% and 120% increase in Black and Hispanic men. However, during this same time, Black and Hispanic women decreased by 83% and 50%. Additionally, there were extremely limited data available on other races and those who identify as part of multiple racial groups.

Gender and race distribution of postdocs at ISU 2010-2018


The race and gender distribution of postdocs is consistent across units

In 2018, all units with at least 10 postdocs employed a majority (over 50%) of men, with the exception of the College of Human Sciences, which employed 41.6% men. The lack of racial diversity of postdocs at ISU is considerably amplified on the unit level. For example, in 2018, no units employed Black or African American postdocs except for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Black men) and the College of Veterinary Medicine (Black women). Most strikingly, the College of Engineering did not employ any non-Asian or non-White postdocs in 2018. This highlights the lack of diversity in the postdoctoral population, especially in the STEM fields. 

Chart of gender and race distribution of postdocs at ISU by unit 2018


Diversify the postdoctoral research associate population

Because postdoctoral research associates are considered a temporary position (under five years) and primary contact is with the primary investigator under whom they are training, specific diversity initiatives for the hiring and retention of postdocs are necessary to increase hiring and retention for non-White and non-Asian postdocs, especially women. Of course, this extends down the pipeline to increasing diversity among undergraduates and graduate students and ensuring that they are aware of postdoctoral opportunities as a step in their career path.

Collect additional data about the postdoctoral experience

Historically, postdocs have been served by the ISU Postdoctoral Association. We encourage the ISU Postdoctoral Association to work together with university leadership to determine additional information in regards to the quality of experience, postdoc specific policies, and salary that would allow UCAWGE to make further observations about the postdoc experience at ISU.

Written by Natalie Clark
Edited by Melissa Miller
Data Curation by Karen Kedrowski and Natalie Clark
Data Analysis and Visualization by Natalie Clark

This analysis is drawn from data publicly available through Access Plus. The statistical analysis, graphs, and interpretation are those of the authors. We are limited by the University’s use of the gender binary, which does not allow for recognition or analysis of gender-nonconforming postdocs, and its use of the Census Bureau’s racial classifications. These data also do not include sexual orientation, understanding that LGBTQIA+ postdocs may have experiences not reflected in this analysis.