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To be or not to be a Postdoc? Kathleen H. Berecek, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Alabama at Birmingham Women in Physiology.

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Presentation on theme: "To be or not to be a Postdoc? Kathleen H. Berecek, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Alabama at Birmingham Women in Physiology."— Presentation transcript:

1 To be or not to be a Postdoc? Kathleen H. Berecek, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Alabama at Birmingham Women in Physiology Workshop EB 2004

2 Options Upon Graduation Three options on graduation: Find a position which directly or indirectly relates to your field of research. Find a position which will attach some value to the knowledge and practical skills you have acquired but may not apply them directly. Go for something completely different. Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love. David McCullough (1933 - )

3 The Postdoctoral Experience Concept of a postdoctoral scholar began over a century ago. Total number in the U.S. has grown to an estimated 52,000. The postdoctoral experience is first and foremost a period of apprenticeship for the purpose of gaining scientific technical skills that advance the career.

4 TYPES OF POSTDOCTORAL POSITIONS (1) Universities (2) Industry (3) National facilities Each type of postdoctoral position differs in terms of sources of funding, salary, benefits, institutional standing, career development opportunities, and ability to take ownership of a project.

5 Defining the Postdoctoral Position Criteria: The appointee has received a Ph.D. or doctorate equivalent. The appointment is viewed as an apprenticeship – a training or transitional period preparatory to a long- term academic, industrial, governmental, or other full-time research career. The appointment involves full-time research or scholarship. The appointment is temporary. The appointee is expected to publish (and receive credit for) research or other activities performed during the period of the appointment.

6 Responsibilities Of A Postdoc Dual responsibilities: (1) Acquire experiences needed to advance their careers. (2) Contribute to the program of their advisor through research accomplishments and interactions with others.

7 Advantages of Postdoctoral Experience Opportunity to enhance ones research experience. Work towards greater independence and self- direction. Become known to the research community through publications and presenting at scientific meetings. Advance career by networking with colleagues. Develop and/or advance teaching leadership and mentoring skills.

8 Nebulous status – not quite student, not quite faculty or staff. Work hours routinely 12 hrs/day, >50 hrs/wk. Little time for life outside of the lab. Independence. Pay and benefits. Strain on personal lives for both sexes – starting and maintaining families. Financial strain. Disadvantages of Postdoctoral Experience

9 Key Steps in Preparation For A Postdoctoral Position Choosing a field Selection of the research area – the postdoctoral research project should be more than an extension of thesis research; it should lead to new skills and a broader outlook. Postdoc should understand in advance what portion of the work is likely to be transportable to his or her next job. Finding a postdoctoral position Personal contacts – advisors, contacts from professional meetings. Ads in journals and on websites. Choosing an advisor Prestige vs. mentoring ability Professor vs. newer Assistant Professor. In any case, it is desirable to (a) arrange a personal meeting; and (b) talk with current and former postdocs who have worked with that investigator or organization.

10 Finding a Postdoctoral Position Be creative. Start by determining your best skills and favorite subjects. Learn all you can about any employer that interests you. Use contacts to seek out people who have the power to hire you and arrange to talk to them. Seek a faculty advisor. Attend as many job fairs and meetings that you can. Start thinking as early as you can about where you might work. Email a prospective mentor. Look before you have your degree. It may take several months to secure a position. Make use of and keep as many contacts as possible. You will need them for future positions. Take charge. Although you seek help from many sources, the job search is in your hands.

11 Explore the Organizations Postdoctoral Personnel Policies (1)1 st year stipend/salary for biomedical postdocs. (2)Employee benefits available to postdocs. Many institutions are establishing salary policy structures similar to those in government labs and at the NIH. (3)Institutional support and source of funding. (4)How postdocs are catagorized – as faculty or students? (5)Postdoctoral development programs.

12 Questions To Be Asked Of And About A Prospective Advisor What are the advisors expectations of the postdoc? Will the advisor or the postdoc determine the research program? How many postdocs has the advisor had and where did they go afterwards? What do current and past lab members think about their experiences? How many papers are being published and where?

13 Questions To Be Asked Of And About A Prospective Advisor, Contd. What is the advisors policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas? Will you have practice in grant writing, teaching/mentoring, oral presentations, manuscript reviews? How long is financial support guaranteed and on what does renewal depend? Can you count on help in finding a position? Adapted from Enhancing the postdoctoral experience for scientists and engineers, 2000.

14 Is A Postdoc For You? Decision to undertake a posdoctoral position is never easy. You should consult with your advisor, other mentors, experienced contacts and a career counselor. Issues which need to be addressed are: --How much one enjoys doing research --Ones level of research skills --The kind of career that seems most attractive --Will the experience raise ones employment status? --Is the experience obligatory in your field? Zest for research should be the first criterion in choosing a postdoctoral opportunity.

15 Is A Postdoc For You? Do you think research will be a rewarding and enjoyable career choice for you or might science policy management, consulting or undergraduate teaching make you happier? The process of career development and career change begins on a foundation of self-awareness. This above all: to thine own self be true…. William Shakespeare

16 Questions To Ask Yourself Why you did this degree in the first place? What has made you consider alternatives? What motivates and interests you? What would you do if you had complete freedom? What are your personal values? What do you hope to get out of a career in the long term? What factors are restricting your choice?

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