What is a postdoc?
A postdoc is a temporary funded research position at a university or in industry taken on within a few years of completing a PhD. Commonly, these positions are externally funded by Research councils, supporting individuals to work in specific institutions. Although postdoctoral researchers are considered members of staff, many will be assigned a supervisor or mentor as support. Additionally, most positions involve working as part of a team of postdocs, often headed by an academic.
Postdoctoral positions are more common in STEM fields or the Social Sciences, however are increasingly available in the Arts and Humanities. This is because Art and Humanities subjects can lend to ad hoc production of research that can be completed independently. Early career researchers therefore may not need previous contracted research experience to prove themselves as viable academics.
How long is a postdoc?
The length of a postdoc can vary widely depending on the funding available and the nature of the research. Typically most postdoc contracts are between six months and three years. These may also be extended depending on whether additional funding can be secured.
Typically, PhD graduates wishing to enter academia will complete multiple postdocs before applying for a permanent university position.
What does a postdoctoral researcher do?
The role of a postdoc will vary depending on the field. In addition to completing research, disseminating findings and running public engagement activities, postdocs may undertake teaching, act as supervisors to postgraduate students and assist in grant and funding applications.
Postdoc vs PhD
Unlike a PhD, a postdoc does not end with a thesis or a thesis defence. Postdoctoral researchers will be required to produce results, and promote these in various publications, internal reports or at conferences.
Why do a postdoc?
There are many reasons why a PhD graduate may want to do a postdoc. For some, it’s an opportunity to complete any unfinished research or pursue lines of enquiry that had to be excluded from the doctoral thesis. Others may want to further develop certain skills for a career in research or industry. Finally, working as a postdoc is a common route for many early career researchers looking to gain the experience, expertise and network needed to succeed as a permanent academic.
How does postdoc funding work?
Typically, postdoctoral researchers are externally funded by large research organisations. However, some positions may be funded by the universities themselves or private companies. Usually universities or organisations will submit a grant or funding application detailing the amount of postdoc positions they require and for how long. As this has to be approved, it is consequently the funder who determines the length of the postdoc and research to be conducted.
The average salary for postdoctoral researchers in India is around INR 40,000 to 70,000 per month, UK is £34,124 and US is $ 42,000. Although postdocs are externally funded, usually by Research Councils, the salary is different from PhD funded stipends. As an employee your salary counts as taxable income. You may also make pension contributions and be eligible for student loan repayments.
However, as a member of staff, you will also be eligible for any benefits offered by your employer, such as healthcare or insurance.
How to get a postdoc position ?
Applying for a postdoc position is the same as going for a job. You will be required to submit an academically focused CV, cover letter and references. You may also be asked to provide a research proposal or statement of research intent if there is scope within the position for your own objectives.
Who can do a postdoc?
Each postdoc position will have its own eligibility criteria. Make sure you check with the advertised listing before applying. Typically, you will need to have completed a PhD. Some postdocs will accept students who have handed in or have passed a viva, but have not yet graduated. Previous publishing may not be required, however you will have to demonstrate that you are capable of producing research with valued outcomes.
As postdocs are designed for recent graduates, most will not accept applicants who graduated from a PhD five or more years ago.
What is the next step after a postdoc?
Completing a postdoctoral position can prepare you for a range of careers in various industries. Most aspiring postdocs want to know how these positions can aid them in the journey of becoming an academic researcher.
As mentioned, you will likely have to complete multiple postdocs before you are qualified to apply for a permanent academic role. You will need to demonstrate you are capable of producing successful research, securing funding, supporting students and disseminating research effectively throughout the academic and public communities.
Some go on to secure prestigious fellowships which grant greater independence to complete independent research. Others build up their reputation as a researcher through continued postdoc positions, research outcomes and engagement. Building an impressive CV and networking within the community is usually the best way to eventually secure a permanent academic position.
Pros of pursuing Postdoc
1. Career Development prospects:
Pursuing career as a postdoc fellow allows you an extended period to work on your research after your PhD. Furthermore, it offers you more flexible opportunities to leverage laboratory facilities than you could during your PhD. It allows you to travel freely for conferences, which lead to meeting scholars from your field and making newer professional connections. Additionally, a postdoc fellow gets opportunity to upskill themselves in their research field and allied domains.
2. Advanced Research Opportunities:
Given the immense value that a postdoc position poses, it opens doors to newer research opportunities. This is not just restricted to independent research but also to collaborative research. Consequently, due to lesser teaching and administrative responsibilities, it will provide you with time to publish more research work. Additionally, it allows you to revise your project cycle, begin a new project, and gain expertise in a given subject. Furthermore, it lets you collaborate with international researchers to work on similar projects. More importantly, as a postdoc your chances of receiving grants increases based on your success as a researcher during PhD.
3. Technique Development Opportunities:
As a postdoc fellow, you have more time to acquire new technology and research skills. In addition, it lets you gain experience in allied fields that you work in with your colleagues. This leads to an excellent opportunity to perfect your distinctive set of skills and learn advanced techniques in growing times.
4. Intellectual Development:
A postdoc fellowship is a distinguished phase in your career to focus exclusively on your intellectual development. Moreover, it is an important and most influential part of your research training. Therefore, choosing a postdoc can bolster your ability to pursue an advanced and successful research career.
Cons of Pursuing Postdoc
Despite the impressive benefits, considering the flip side of pursuing a postdoc position is imperative before taking the big decision.
1. No Tenure-Track Guarantee
The uncertain career prospects in academia does not guarantee a tenure-track position even after completing your postdoc. According to a survey, only 30% of postdocs in the United States, and 20% postdocs in the United Kingdom succeed in acquiring a long term academic position. Moreover, some even have to climb through a series of postdoc positions before reaching a stable academic position. This predicament often leads many postdocs to quit academia and move to an industrial career.
2. Lack of Support
As postdocs are expected to work as an independent researcher, they often receive little to no professional advice or training from experienced researchers at the university. On the contrary, some institutions take advantages of the postdoc fellow as a teaching or researching captive. Furthermore, you may also experience poor working conditions as a result of being neglected by your department and surviving postdoc position becomes difficult.
3. Monetary Challenges
One of the major disadvantages of pursuing a postdoc position is meager salaries. The financial situation of postdoc fellows is so critical that an assistant professor is paid more than them, although fractionally, but yes!
4. Over- qualification
After struggling to acquire a stable academic position, postdocs often try to switch to industrial jobs. In this process, it is found that postdocs are over-qualified for industrial jobs and have to begin from scratch in the new field.