For Postdocs-Beyond Research and Academia

 In for postdocs, PhD/Postdoc Blog

I have written this blog series mostly from my personal experiences and perspective. As doctoral students or postdoctoral fellows, many of us dream about having a successful career in research and therefore having a full-time faculty position. However, studies have shown that the number of postdocs drastically exceeds the number of available faculty positions. While I was trying to look at the statistics on the number of postdocs versus faculty positions available I came across a very interesting article in New York Times, So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors. This article details the dearth of faculty positions and grants available to the ever-increasing number of postdocs especially in the field of biomedical sciences. It also stresses the fact that postdocs remain in a status quo until they are over 35; therefore, earning less as compared to people of a similar age in other fields. Another article published by the National Academies Press, The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited, details the struggles of postdocs and the measures that have been, or should be, taken to address these issues. The article also points out that one of the most critical factors for the successful transition from postdoc to a faculty position is proper mentoring. Many people believe that a students’ research supervisor should not only support the trainees’ research goals, but also be their mentor and support their career goals. One way to support the trainees’ career goals is to encourage them to complete an IDP.  In fact, many institutions now require their doctoral and postdoctoral students to have an IDP and use it as a conversation starter for talking about your career goals with your mentor (research supervisor). If you are like me and want to have a career in academia, keep in mind the probability of success and therefore leave room for alternate careers.

Most institutions offer workshops and programs to help their graduate students and postdocs explore multiple career options. There are many career options in academia besides a tenured research professor. Undergraduate teaching is one option; it usually results in faculty positions in primarily undergraduate institutions. If this is a career option you are interested in you can always start as an instructor or an adjunct faculty to get experience teaching. This is helpful when applying for full-time faculty positions.

Another important factor for a successful career in any field is communication. Communication could be argued as being the most important skill for advancement in the majority of professions. Don’t shy away from networking with your peers and individuals who have achieved success in your field of interest. Seek their advice and help.

Another helpful tip, keep your armor ready so when it is time to be at the front you are ready. Meaning – keep your documents organized and your CV updated so when you come across a job position you are prepared to apply. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t land a job, in fact, use the experience as a learning opportunity; assess your skills so you are in a better position for the next opportunity.

Don’t limit your career options in one direction. A successful research career or a faculty position may be your dream career, but there are many careers out there that are equally, if not more, exciting and fulfilling. Step out of the box and explore, you may end up having a dream career you never thought was fit for you.

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