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Cornell University


Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Should I do a postdoc? discussion and feedback valuable for trainees

The BEST Program's goal is to broaden our participants career options, and in collaboration with the Office of Postdoctoral Studies and CU-CIRTL, organized "Should I do a postdoc?" on February 1, 2016.

Attendees at "Should I do a postdoc?" were not disappointed with their time spent at the recent seminar and panel discussion. Michael Roach gave a compelling talk about his research on the topic of career choices recently published in Science. (See Sauermann, H., & Roach, M. (2016). “Why Pursue the Postdoc Path?” Science 352:663-664). He also referred to an even more recent paper by Kahn S, Ginther DK. (2017) "The impact of postdoctoral training on early careers in biomedicine" Nature Biotechnology 35:90–94.

Findings suggest that unless you want to go into an academic tenure-track position, the lost earnings will set you behind compared to others who go directly into their employment. If you value money, then think about getting that job immediately after your PhD.

The audience heard pertinent advice from the additional panelists Hojoong Kwak, Cornell Assistant Professor in Molecular Biology and Genetics; Brandy Bessette-Symons, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Ithaca College; Yolanda Brooks, postdoctoral associate in Civil and Environmental Engineering with Ruth Richardson and Sera Young at Cornell; and John Parker, Associate Professor of Virology at the James A. Baker Institute of Animal Health in Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine:

"Find your career goal before you go into a postdoc."
"Don't do a postdoc unless you know what you want to do."
"Do what you want to do, go for the highest goal you have."
"Make an honest assessment if you will be successful as an academic, during your PhD. Seek out truthful advice."

John Parker shared that the typical path of an R1 academic is to be trained by a well-known scientist, to be productive as a grad student (i.e. publications), then do a productive postdoc in a well known lab, having already had independent funding success like a K award. "So ask yourself, do you enjoy the process?"

Brandy Bessette-Symons agreed that even at an undergraduate institution, having publications gets you in the door. "You will be in the top three for the interview, but you have to rethink the type of support and access to equipment you will have, and prepare for a three course teaching load."

The type of postdoc you have will prepare you best for your future. Christine Holmes emphasized that you should be sure to negotiate for the type of training you need for your future.

We asked participants what is the most important knowledge they gained, and their feedback illustrates the importance of knowing what path you want to take:

It was beneficial to hear the different perspectives on postdocs from a variety of sources. I thought it helped me gain better insight as to the true purpose of a postdoc as well as what to do prior to applying for one. 

Resources available at Cornell. Breakdown of jobs that PhDs are now doing - if you want an academic job, you can get there, but you won't be paid much. Postdocs are helpful to build your skill set and publication record, but they are not good long term positions. Get in there and get out as fast as you can. That said, it seems that a three year postdoc with a nice publication would of course be preferable to a shorter one without a publication. 

Information about my livelihood for financial security by doing a post-doc, different kinds of post-docs exist and how to go about planning my career to get the post doc i want or need.

Doing a postdoc after completing a Ph.D. does not necessarily pay off in industry positions (in terms of salary and earning potential). 

It helped me to really consider the costs and benefits of a postdoc. 

I should look for other options as well, apart from academia.

Reasons not to do a postdoc.