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.
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.
Finally, I would also suggest that you make time for reading the literature. This can easily fall by the wayside, but it is a key element in keeping up with the field and for thinking critically about your own work. Participate in journal clubs, attend seminars, and talk to as many people as possible about your field of research. Joining at least one relevant professional society will also be helpful — it offers an opportunity for networking, reduced rates at conferences and will show engagement with a broader audience on your CV.
Plugging in and finding community
If you are thinking of moving to a new area to start a postdoc, a major concern might be making friends and finding community in a new location. This can be particularly true if you went straight from undergraduate studies to graduate school and have always had the built-in advantage of classmates or cohorts.
The best suggestion I have is to focus on finding a church and get plugged in! If you are unsure of where to start, contact a local Intervarsity Graduate Fellowship and ask for recommendations and/or contacts. If you belong to a particular denomination, contact the local branch or branches ahead of time. Who knows — they might even be helpful in finding a roommate, helping you move in, or taking you out to lunch after church Though moving and church shopping can be exhausting, make the effort from the start — it will mean you are settled in that much faster.
I would also take the time to be involved in other communities as well. Look for volunteer opportunities doing something you enjoy — Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or Young Life, just to name a few. Join a gym and take dance lessons, or find a local kayaking or hiking club and get to know people. If your undergraduate or grad institution has a large alumni presence in the area, look up the local chapter and contact someone about things to do in the area. I have found that people are usually extremely generous in helping someone get settled into the area — particularly if you have something in common. It might take some legwork in the beginning, but it’s worth it to make your new location feel like home.
I hope you have enjoyed this series on finding a postdoc, and that it has been helpful to you in some way, no matter what stage you are in your journey. While journeying through graduate school and a postdoc position is exciting, challenging, and overwhelming at times, remember that we serve a God who
is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
P.S. Kelly is working on a list of resources related to finding a postdoc in the sciences. We’ll make it available in the next week or two.
What questions do you have about moving into a new position or finding a community at your new location? Are there other ways that you’ve been able to make friends and find community?
About the author:
Kelly Seaton lives in Durham, North Carolina (go Duke!), where she is an HIV vaccine researcher. She is a graduate of Messiah College and Penn State University-Hershey. Her cross-cultural experience includes studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, as well as traveling to Haiti and South Africa. She loves the movies Emma and The Shawshank Redemption. Outside of work, she loves hanging with friends, playing volleyball, and any and all outdoors. Her post Finding a Postdoc in the Sciences: Nailing the Interview is the most visited ESN blog post.