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Addressing the Postdoctoral Challenge

Addressing the Postdoctoral Challenge

As I think about my journey through graduate school and the crazy world of postdoc-dom (postdoc-ship?), a few things keep coming to mind. These verses from Ephesians 3 (ESV, emphases mine) have been such an encouragement, and are my prayer for those of you who are beginning or in the midst of your postdoc journey.

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

It is easy to get caught up in the pursuit of knowledge and achieving success despite high costs to yourself, to your family, or to others. I pray that you would be strengthened in your journey through the power of the Spirit, and that you would be deeply grounded in the love of Christ which surpasses any knowledge that you might receive or generate during your years as a postdoc. Be encouraged, and I hope that the following additional resources will be informative and helpful along the way!


1) National Postdoctoral Association: The NPA is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization that seeks sustainable change and improvement for the postdoctoral experience through collaboration with all stakeholders. The NPA’s key program activities are focused in three key areas:  Advocacy and Education, Resource Development, Community Building.

Develops policy recommendations for institutions, such as: Family friendly policies, maternity leave, Postdoctoral training, etc. . . .

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Kelly Seaton concludes her series on finding a postdoc in the sciences. Previously: One Postdoc’s Journey, Where Should I Begin?, Identifying the Right Position, Nailing the Interview. Kelly is also working on a list of resources for finding a postdoc, which we’ll publish as soon as it’s ready. 

Downtown Madison moving day

Finding a community is important - who else is going to help you move in?

I think one of the happiest days in a grad student’s life (next to the day after the defense!) is the day that a postdoc position is finalized and accepted. It is exciting to think about the possibilities that are ahead, and you will finally be earning a little more money! As you think about what lies ahead of you, I would encourage you to focus on a few key areas as you transition into your new position.

Your new post-doc position

I have found that I greatly enjoy being a postdoc — people tend to respect your opinion more (you are the expert, after all, in your subject area or technical skill), and there are many opportunities to grow and advance your career. It is important to keep in mind, though, that a postdoc position is a focused, somewhat intensive, and short-term training opportunity.

Photo credit: John Benson via Flickr

The relationship with your postdoc mentor will be key, and it is important that everyone is on the same page in terms of goals and milestones during your postdoc tenure. Take the time at the beginning to talk with your mentor about their expectations of you as a postdoc and to outline the path forward with clear goals and milestones that are mutually agreeable. There are several examples of postdoc/mentor agreements on the web to serve as a starting point for a formal or informal discussion of goals, such as AAMC.

In an academic postdoc setting, publications will be key to the advancement of your future career as a scientist. My postdoc mentors have encouraged me to try to submit 2 papers per year of my postdoc. This is a challenging goal, but nonetheless a good one. Because of this expectation, I have become involved in several projects in the lab and have been exposed to a breadth of research. Setting clear expectations from the start will help both you and your mentor stay focused on the desired outcomes from your postdoc and can only help your productivity during your time as a postdoc. Continue Reading…

Kelly Seaton continues her series on finding a postdoc in the sciences. Previously: One Postdoc’s Journey, Where Should I Begin?, Identifying the Right Position

Cornell students and postdocs at CERN

Though these Cornell postdocs at CERN are dressed a bit casually for most interviews, they did remember the most important item of clothing: their hard hats.

What questions do you have about the postdoc interview process? Do you have any interview experiences or advice to share?

Photo credit: solarnu via Flickr

Once you have submitted your applications and landed an interview, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Be prepared! This may seem like an obvious point, (and not even worth mentioning!) but there is more to preparation than meets the eye.

  • Who will be part of the interview process? Are you meeting just the primary PI, or multiple faculty members? You should read up and be familiar with the research of every person you’ll be interviewing with. My postdoc interview process included many people — 8 faculty members, the Division Chair, the COO of the Institute, multiple collaborators, and Human Resources. Ask for an itinerary if they don’t provide one, and know something about each person and their primary research, if applicable. By doing this, you’ll have a starting point to get them talking, and the 20 minutes or so will go much more quickly. Continue Reading…