Tips to help postdocs with their career goals
Helpful tips for postdocs, for now, and in the years to come
Current Position: (ReBUILD) Postdoctoral Training Fellow
Program Start date: August 2017
Institution: University of Detroit Mercy/Wayne State University
After choosing biochemistry as a major, there has hardly been a day when I have not found it exciting in unexpected new ways. After completing my Ph.D. I took a career break for personal reasons, and when I was ready to get my hands wet again (in the lab), it was a little difficult but not impossible. I had managed to publish during my sabbatical years, which helped me stay in the loop. With a bit of motivation and a bit of support, I managed to get a postdoctoral position in a translational lab in the Department of Oncology at Wayne State University, and since then there was no looking back. For a graduate student or a postdoc following tips are helpful not only during formative years but well after that.
KNOW YOUR GOALS:
As a graduate student or postdoc knowing your career goals is vital to success. In most institutions, these individuals are required to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs are used for setting short and long-term goals; however, periodic review is necessary to assess your progress. During this review, you might find that it is required to introduce new short-term goals. The process of creating an IDP is an excellent way to explore your strengths and figure out areas where you need help or improvement.
Of the many resources available at our university for graduate students and postdocs are the graduate and postdoc professional development (GPPD) seminars and workshops. I have attended several of them. One particular GPPD about creating IDPs was especially helpful through the steps of the IDP and provided some examples to get an idea of what to include. Since IDPs are a requirement, most of the institutions have templates for IDPs available on their website along with other postdoc resources. There are, however, additional online resources that help you create one like Science Careers has the myIDP tool and some very insightful articles about the significance of IDPs in achieving career goals. American Chemical Society’s IDP is helpful for individuals with a chemistry or related background interested in finding careers in a related field.
You can find more information about IDPs at http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2012/09/so-you-think-you-have-skills
FIND A MENTOR:
Lately, I have realized that having a good mentor/coach is critically important for a successful career. No matter where you are in your professional life, good advice always comes handy and can go a long way towards helping you achieve your goals. Your coach may be your research advisor, a senior colleague, or anyone who you are comfortable talking to and trust their advice. Be sure to find someone who is accessible and has experience in what you are aspiring to achieve. Depending on the time and availability of both you and your coach, set weekly or monthly meetings to discuss your career goals and seek advice from their personal experiences. Do not hesitate to ask questions; sometimes just one question opens up a Pandora’s box.
You can read more about the role and significance of having a coach at https://www.higheredjobs.com/Articles/articleDisplay.cfm?ID=1457&utm_source=11_29_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=InsiderUpdate
MAKE TIME TO NETWORK:
Being a postdoc, I know, it is little difficult to find time for things outside of research besides struggling to have a work-life balance already. However, it is very important to be seen and known in the immediate circles of your desired career area. If your institution has a postdoctoral association (PDA) try to be part of it or participate in at least some of the events. Your PDA is the best way for you to connect with other postdocs at your institution as well as some faculty. These connections help open new avenues like research collaborations, and it can also help you discover new careers options. Besides institutional PDA, free membership to the national postdoctoral association (NPA) may be available for postdocs through their university portal. NPA sends regular communications to its members about grants and opportunities available for postdocs nationally. I have personally benefitted from attending local and regional PDA events. For example, at one event a suggestion from a faculty member helped me find new opportunities and resources available for postdocs interested in careers in addition to academia. From there I was able to explore a career that I was passionate about but didn’t know how or where to start. I will talk about it and much more in my upcoming blogs.
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