Guest Post: Thoughts on “How to Get a Postdoc Position” Part II

This is the second part of a two-part post on How to Get a Postdoc Position, written by Amy Boddy, PhD, Arizona State University,  Michelle Kline, PhD, Arizona State University & Simon Fraser University, and Hillary Lenfesty, PhD, Arizona State University.

Part II. Tips for securing a postdoc 

In our previous post, we talked of the what, why, and where of  postdoc positions. As promised, we are now here to guide you in how to find yourself a postdoc, and a good one at that — because even once you’re convinced a postdoc is right for you, it can be challenging to find the right one. As we mentioned in Part I, many kinds of postdocs are not advertised, and postdocs that didn’t exist can sometimes be created (like other collaborations) through social networking. Frustratingly, someone may be planning to hire a postdoc that fits your description, one that would be downright ideal for you,  but if your name doesn’t pop into their head, you may never hear of the position. (We have on occasion heard of a position we would have applied to, after hearing that a co-sufferer on the job market was hired for it!) This is a truly flawed system, yes. But we want you here, and you want that postdoc. So how can you find one?

Our #1 piece of core advice is that you do not depend exclusively on your Phd supervisor, and that you take action as early as possible by doing the following. Keep in mind that while this can be terrifying for academic bookworms, it is also a great opportunity to grow your academic network. Conferences are a great way to do this, but we recognize that there are many, many reasons that you may not be able to make it to conferences. So we’re including here virtual networking tools as well, and would love to see more work-arounds in the comments.

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Guest Post: Thoughts on “How to Get a Postdoc Position” Part I

Today’s guest post is brought to you by three post-docs:  Amy Boddy, PhD, Arizona State University,  Michelle Kline, PhD, Arizona State University & Simon Fraser University, and Hillary Lenfesty, PhD, Arizona State University

Part I. The what, why, and where’s of a postdoc position.

When we first spotted graduation on the horizon and realized, “OMG. I need a job!”, the realm of the postdoc was mysterious and opaque. What exactly is a postdoc? (Answer: Many things). Where are postdoc positions advertised? (Answer: Many places. Or sometimes nowhere.  Or sometimes they only exist if you create them). Can I just ask someone for a postdoc? (Answer: Yep…kinda.) When we each finally scored satisfying postdocs, we met women graduate students with all those same questions, had a chat about it, and decided that our answers could be useful more broadly. So, here they are.

Why you may want a postdoc

Postdocs are pretty standard in the physical sciences where it’s viewed as a necessary extension of Phd training, but postdocs are also becoming more common in the social sciences and the humanities. Why? It’s a little bit about the carrot and a little bit about the stick.

  • Postdocs are a way to get a paycheck for academic work while riding it out for another year on the job market.
  • Postdocs pay better (around $50k in 2015), and look better on your CV than another year in graduate school, or a year of adjunct teaching.
  • Postdocs can provide training in new skills (research, teaching and mentoring).
  • Postdocs can help you build research collaborations with a new lab or school.

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A day in the life…

As a post-doc, I did three things: I did research, analyzed data, and I wrote. I ran behavioral experiments and western blots, I did a lot of data analysis.

There were other things – I worked with students in the lab, and I organized events with the Post-doc Association at the post-doc institution. Later I applied for jobs, a significant time commitment, especially in the second year. It isn’t that I had a lot of free time, but I did have a lot of flexibility. When a grant deadline was coming up, or a set of experiments to (hopefully) finish off a paper, I could clear blocks of time and focus on that one thing. This – and my friends in that town – are the only things that I’m nostalgic about from my postdoc.

That is not what my days look like anymore. Now I have a few other things on my plate. Now there is teaching, routine meetings, and the ongoing administrative work of running a lab, not to mention grant writing and trying to stay on top of the literature. Coming up is graduate admissions season, and a couple of deadlines for training grants for my lab peeps. This increase in the number-of-things wasn’t unexpected, I had watched and spoken with my grad school and post-doc mentors, not to mention other people both IRL and online, enough to know better. And the amount of work is a lot, but it’s not unbearable. What I am finding difficult is the fragmentation of my time.

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