Funding furloughed space science postdocs

Due to the US federal government shutdown, NPP - the program that funds space-sciences postdoctoral fellow across the country - ran out of money January 17th. This means its fellows — many of whom just finished graduate school — will go without pay starting January 18th. These individuals help understand our planet's climate, unveil the wonders of other planets, help us search for life beyond Earth, and probe myriad mysteries throughout our universe. They won their fellowships through a competitive peer-review process where only ~10% of the applicants get funding... they are researchers that work hard every day to improve our lives and help us better understand our place in the cosmos.

These folks are also contractors, which means they aren't covered by the backpay bill that will provide backpay to government civil servants. And beyond no backpay, these folks make less money than their civil servant counterparts. Which means they have less ability to build up a savings account... especially as many of them live in high cost of living areas. For them this is an absolute emergency. If that's not enough, they are at an incredibly fragile point in their careers. "Stopping work" for them means doing less research and writing fewer papers and having a shorter CV for that next job application... in an incredibly competitive job market.

This is an emergency for these folks, both financially and professionally. A lack of funding for them will push them to find other jobs, and could lead to a significant brain drain for the United States space sciences community. So we are starting a GoFundMe campaign to support them during this government shutdown.

The contracting company is trying to help these fellows as best they can. The postdocs have been placed on leave, but have been offered an interest-free loan to help them make ends meet during this period without pay. The company is also extending the fellowship duration to make up for the period of time the postdocs will be placed on leave (until the shutdown ends). But without government funding, that’s about the best they can do on their own. So we are asking for funding to help cover household expenses like groceries and utility bills. This will both extend the amount of time these postdocs can get by without their next actual paycheck. It will also help defray the costs of that loan. But it will help them “bridge the gap” to their next real paycheck.

For more on NPP, see the program’s website:

A list of NPP fellows and their funded projects is here:


Why the NPPs?
There are a few reasons why we are helping this group. First, they are the first batch of people that we work with that we know are being furloughed and do not currently have a promise for backpay. Second, we have a list of all the known fellows impacted by this lack of funds. This means we can equitably distribute any raised funds to all of them.

What about other furloughed contractors?
These folks are also at risk of being furloughed without pay or backpay. We have been asking around about their status and are also looking for ways that we as individuals can help them make ends meet if they are furloughed without backpay.

What about support staff such as custodians and cafeteria workers?
We have also been asking about the status of these vulnerable workers as well. To the best of our knowledge, at least some of custodians are currently working and getting paid. Our understanding is that some of the cafeteria workers have been moved to other contracts and are also getting paid. And in the past, some of these workers have received backpay.

How will you distribute funds?
Our current plan is to use the NPP website’s list of current fellows to contact individuals and split whatever funds we raise equally amongst all of the current fellows. We will contact each individual separately to work out the best method of distributing funds to them.

What about fellows on visas that may not be able to accept funds from this campaign?
This is something we have no solution for yet, and to be honest we do not yet fully understand. But we plan to work with immigration lawyers to improve our understanding and see if we can find a solution.


Fundraising team: Science Doesn't Sleep (7)

Shawn Domagal-Goldman 
Takoma Park, MD
Courtney Dressing 
Team member
John Armstrong 
Team member
Jonathan Varkovitzky 
Team member
Niki Parenteau 
Team member
See all

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