Factors to Consider
While a postdoc is often the logical step following a doctorate degree, it may not be the right step for everyone. Postdoctoral training is designed to expand your skills and knowledge to ultimately accomplish your career goals. Assuming you know postdoctoral training is right for you, follow these steps to make it a reality.
Step 1. Identifying and researching opportunities
- Speak with your mentor and other faculty members - they are your primary resource.
- Review the who is conducting cutting-edge research in your field and at what institution/center.
- Network at professional association conferences and through association membership.
- Connect with alumni from your graduate program to learn from their experiences.
- Research faculty, departments, and schools of interest through their website, CVs (if available) and papers.
Step 2. Applying for positions
Prepare your materials. The purpose of a strong CV and cover letter is to land you the interview. To market yourself effectively, you need to research the faculty, research, and department and modify your materials to reflect the experience most relevant to your target audience.
Step 3. Interviewing
Before: Research the faculty, department, and institution and read their publications. Review your experience, CV, and cover letter and identify the primary strengths you will bring to this lab and why you are a good fit for THIS position in THIS lab at THIS university. Review common interview questions and practice your responses. Prepare yourself for behavioral questions and for your research presentation (if applicable). Be sure to prepare questions for the interviewer! During: Arrive early, dress professionally, and bring several copies of your CV and research/presentation materials (if applicable). Turn off your cell phone, avoid chewing gum during the interview, and do not wear cologne/perfume (you don't want the interview to be allergic to you). Smile! Speak positively about your past experiences, supervisors, and mentors. Ask strong, informed questions. After: The process continues long after you walk out that door. Reflect on your performance. What part of the process did you feel good about? What are areas for improvement? Write a formal thank you letter to each interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. Incorporate a sentence addressing some part of your conversation.
Step 4. Deciding on the right position for you
While it is tempting to simply accept the an offer to feel secure in the next phase of your career - take the time to reflect on how well the position fits with your goals, values, personality, and interests. It is better to assess the "fit" BEFORE accepting a position than discover a poor fit after you are in the lab. The National Postdoctoral Association provides a great resource entitled: Going in with Your Eyes Open: What to Ask Before Accepting a U.S. Postdoctoral Position. The factors to consider depend on your unique needs and goals, but some may include:
- Personal needs: Quality of school systems, employment opportunities for spouse/partner, proximity to family, etc.
- Financial aspects: Salary/stipend, quality of benefits, tuition assistance, cost of living, etc.
- Mentor characteristics: Management style, expectations, performance review process,
- Personality and work style: Independent vs. team approach, etc.
- Professional development: Mentoring relationship, career assistance, grant writing training, teaching opportunities, etc.
The National Academies Press published a list of questions to ask of and about an adviser before accepting a position. Ask to speak with current postdocs and possible a past postdoc to gather their perspectives as well. It is your responsibility to determine if a position is a good fit for you.
Step 5. Succeeding during your postdoc experience
Your postdoc experience should provide you with outstanding training and expand your skill set. Keep in mind, though, that your career development is your responsibility. Identify your goals for the postdoc experience and determine what you need to obtain to further your career objectives. Seek out programs, trainings, and resources to help you accomplish these goals, but do not allow them to interfere with your lab contributions.
Finding the "Perfect Postdoc" for You by Carol L. Manhan, Ph.D.
Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies - published by National Academies Press.