This is the first part in a series of blog posts about post doctoral research positions, exploring what they are, what options researchers have and where postdocs go next.
From the age of four, Vita Godec knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted to be a professor. She planned ahead and set herself up for a PhD in her home country of Slovenia at the University of Ljubljana, exploring the enzymes that form cell walls, approaching the problem from different scientific perspectives: biology, chemistry and physics. After completing in 2012, however, she realised that that she would need to go abroad to fulfil her life dream. “There are only three universities in Slovenia, and only one of them has a natural sciences department,” she recalls.
Luckily, she was eligible for the UNESCO L’Oreal International Fellowships Programme, which took her to Warwick University, UK, where she continued her research as a postdoc. Godec knew that one postdoc wouldn’t be enough, and “the combination of doing my PhD at a university that no-one had heard of, plus problems with experiments and hence a lack of publications, made it difficult for me to continue in academia,” she says. After a lot of self-reflection, Godec make the difficult decision to explore other options.
Godec was lucky her postdoctoral research had put her in a good position for a job in industry. “Our lab group in Warwick had a lot of partnerships with industry, which meant that I had an insight into how industry worked and I understood some of the regulatory processes.” Godec now works as a scientist in Drug Product Development of Biopharmaceuticals at Lek, a Sandoz company based in Slovenia, and although she didn’t become an academic, she still very much enjoys her job.
Godec’s story is far from unique: around 90% of postdocs leave academia: it has become the alternative career, so why do so many people still do a postdoc? Naturejobs ran a survey in 2014 asking this very question. The results showed that the top two reasons were because of people’s love of science and that it was the next logical step in their career.
With that in mind, I thought it might be worth having a look at what a postdoc is, whether it’s worth doing one if you don’t want to/cannot stay in academia and what your options are for if you leave academia. In this series I speak to past, present and future postdocs as well as career experts and people in industry who work with postdocs to find out what everyone thinks they are and whether or not they’re useful.