Why a postdoc should not be like doing a second PhD

What is the aim of a postdoc? Conventional wisdom suggests is that is all about getting the papers necessary to obtain an independent group leader position, and with good reason, many supervisors will tell you to focus on churning out results.

Just-work-till-midnight-you-need-to-relax-too

Taking this approach, it can be easy to slip into feeling a postdoc is a lot like a PhD – just without the thesis. However, while geting data for papers is an important aspect of the job, particularly if you do not have independent funding, solely focusing on benchwork  is a bad idea.

Fueling a hard research addiction is one among many reasons why people pursue the ‘Special Kind of Hell’ that is a postdoc, despite the short term contracts, visa issueslower pay and reduced development opportunities. However, like most unrestrained hedonistic behaviour, it cannot last, so you need to have an escape plan to avoid ending up in postdoc purgatory.

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As argued by Adriana in a previous post, a postdoc is a temporary training position, so you should view it as time to develop the skills necessary to obtain your next job irrespective of the career choice. Or what’s more, if like many you decide to do a postdoc because you have no clue what else to do, it is the time to work it out.

If you are interested in academia, you should aim to gain all the skills necessary, such as grant writing, obtaining funding, teaching, developing a network etc, etc. Nobody is going to tell you to do this, let alone how to accomplish it. So get advice where you can and follow tips, don’t be shy to reach out to others. All this ‘extra’ work will take some time away from the bench, but it is vital.

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If you spend your entire time focusing on lab work and papers, you could be in trouble when the party stops. It will not be enough to get an academic position.

I have seen several friends and colleagues of mine finish “1D postdocs” and struggle, many employers will not be interested. If the long held promise of a career in academia fails to materialize you may well have to take a substantial pay cut to start with an entry level position in on new path, something that can be particularly challenging, as it is often a stage in life when people have young families to support.

But fear not! There is a lot of help out there. I highly recommend MyIDP as a great starting place for planning your postdoc, particularly if your supervisors idea of a personal development review is to ask when you are going to have the next draft of the manuscript ready. Although highly institution specific, careers and training services can often be useful too.

Over the oming weeks I’ll be trying to gather a few more resources and sources of advice from others to post, but if you have resources of your own to share that could be a help to others please add them below.

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