Attack planning your career path and finding the right lab in the same way as you would plan a research experiment.
“If you chose the wrong lab, a lab that isn’t publishing heavily or is not pushing you, you’re not going to be able to get the papers you need to get into that lectureship or fellowship position that you’re looking for.” Although potentially painful to read, these words from Karen Hinxman, consultant at the Postdoc Development Centre at Imperial College, London, are about as honest as they come. There are a few things to consider carefully when planning your postdoc:
As postdocs, it’s important to sit and think about your career before you embark on it, as you are really committing yourself to somethin for 3-5 years. Having a plan from Day One, and regularly assessing and comparing it to your progress will help keep things moving along smoothly. “It’s no longer enough to just rely on “doing good work” and hoping to land a position. Postdocs must strategically navigate their career,” says Jim Gould, Director at the Harvard Medical School Office for Postdoctoral Fellows.
“Most soon-to-be postdocs (and current ones) have trouble thinking about their careers beyond the next experiment,” says Gould. This is understandable, considering the workload that many have. But without proper planning and self-assessment, postdocs could end up picking the wrong lab for them, ultimately damaging their future careers. Attack planning your career path in the same way as you would plan a research experiment.
Pick a PI
The postdoc is a period when scientific and professional foundations for a career are built. This includes building meaningful relationships with supervisors and colleagues. And so, choosing the right research environment will not only have short terms impacts, but long term as well. “Postdocs need to realize they will rely on their PI for recommendations (or references) for the next several positions,” says Gould.
If you don’t want to commit career suicide, as Hinxman calls it, make sure you think carefully about who you chose to do your postdoctoral research with. The PI that you work with will be essential in helping you get your papers published in good places, and, adds Kim McCall, professor of biology at Boston University, “recognition of his/her name and institution can make a difference in getting you to the short-list of interviews.”
Make sure there’s money
This is tied to the PI that you chose to work with. “Postdocs should consider the security of the funding and how long the PI can provide financial support,” says Gould.
Given that the entire research enterprise depends on funding, postdocs should make sure they know how stable the funding situation is in a lab and the department it is in. “They should also ask if they are required, expected, or simply encouraged to seek their own funding,” says Gould. PIs will declare how long a postdoc position is funded for and how soon you might be expected to provide for yourself.
Love what you do
Like working in any environment, part of what will make it enjoyable is the people you are with and the work ethics they share. If you don’t get on with your colleagues, chances are that you won’t enjoy your work. As you’ll be spending the majority of your time with them, finding a group of people you like and can work with is just as important as all the other factors that need to be considered.
If you haven’t come across the postdoc series before, you can catch up on all the previous posts here: