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PhD Vs. PostDoc

20 differences between a phd and a postdoc.

Dr. Somasundaram R

20 Differences Between a PhD and a Postdoc

Table of contents

Deciding on your academic path can be a bit confusing. You’ve probably heard about getting a PhD and doing a PostDoc , but what do these terms really mean? Well, we’re here to help you make sense of it all in plain and easy-to-understand language.

In this article, iLovePhD breaks down the differences between a PhD and a Postdoc. Think of it as two significant steps in your academic journey. We’ve put together a table with 20 points to tell you everything you need to know. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the academic world for a while, this guide will help you understand the choices ahead.

Let’s start this journey together and explore the world of PhD and Postdoc , making it all clear and simple for you.

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Dr. Somasundaram R

Postdoctoral Fellowships in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cape Town

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phd or postdoc

  • Postdocs: The Definitive Guide
  • After a PhD

As soon as you step outside the world of academia, the number of people who know what a postdoctorate is, what they involve and how to secure one quickly plummets. Given that a postdoctorate can be a popular option, especially for Science and Technology-related PhD graduates, it’s essential to address this current gap in knowledge.

What Is a Postdoc?

A postdoc is only one of many paths you can take after having completed your PhD. A postdoc (also referred to as a postdoc or postdoctoral) can be best thought as a temporary position designed to refine your research and teaching skills while undertaking practical research work. Because of this, most regard a postdoc position as a temporary stepping stone for developing a career in a more permanent position.

There’s a common misconception that a postdoctorate is an advanced doctoral degree that is undertaken after having completed a PhD. This misconception arises from individuals associating the word “post” in “postdoctorate” with the word “after”. While you will learn a lot during your time in a postdoc position, it is nothing like a degree. There are no fees, coursework, exams or vivas to deliver (thankfully!). A postdoc is, in fact, a job, and as someone in a postdoc position, you will be considered an ‘employee’. And just like any other job, the position will come with its own salary, responsibilities, training and employers.

Most postdocs are awarded by universities or research institutes as temporary contracts. However, they can also be undertaken in private companies, non-profit charities or government bodies.

What Is The Purpose Of A Postdoc?

As mentioned above, the primary purpose of a postdoc is to help bridge the gap between your current skills and your current level of experience. Due to this, postdoctoral positions are popular amongst those who have recently obtained their PhD. This is especially true for individuals who which to pursue a career in academia or research but don’t yet have adequate experience in teaching or publishing.

For the ‘learning’ nature of this role, postdocs provide an excellent option for those to continue their self-development while pursuing research in a field they’re interested in.

What Does a Postdoc Do?

A postdoc works under the supervision of an experienced researcher known as a postdoctoral advisor. What you will do on a day-to-day basis will, therefore, depend on what they require support on at any given time.

While your responsibilities will depend on your postdoctoral advisor, you can expect the following duties as part of your role:

  • Contribute to the supervision of PhD students who are undertaking research projects in a closely related field.
  • Supporting the research team in managerial tasks related to planning, organisation and administration.
  • Undertake research, including but not limited to: qualitative data collection, data analysis and data and lab management.
  • Contribute to the production, review and dissemination of academic and non-academic writing, including publications.

Your responsibilities will also depend on who your postdoc position is with. Positions offered by universities will often place a high emphasis on the academic aspects of the role. This involves aspects such as working more independently, developing your supervisory and teaching capabilities, and improving your communication skills through participation in seminars and conferences. In doing so, they’re helping you to become an individual capable of both conducting research and transferring knowledge – in other words, a university lecturer!

The opposite is true for postdoc positions held in industry, such as a private organisation or government body. As you can expect, these roles will place almost all of its emphasis on conducting research and advancing projects forward, with little focus on anything that falls outside of this.

How Long Should I Be A Postdoc For?

There is no set rule for how long you should remain in a postdoc position. Regardless of this, most individuals stay within a postdoc position for between 2 to 4 years. During this period, it’s not uncommon to move between one or two postdoc positions, with one position being abroad for a more rounded experience.

The time you may choose to spend in a given postdoctoral position will depend on several factors. The most influential of these will be:

  • The size of the research project’s scope,
  • The support needs of the principal investigator/postdoc advisor,
  • The amount of funding available.

Although you could undertake a postdoctorate for a year or less, most will advise against this. This is simply because you will likely not have enough time to gain valuable experience associated with producing publications, writing research grant proposals and speaking at conferences. Although it may be possible to complete these within a single year, most researchers will opt for a minimum of two years for a single position. This will provide them with ample opportunity to contribute a significant amount to a project, publish a handful of papers and attend several conferences. On top of this, it will allow you to develop a deeper relationship with the students you help teach or supervise. This will prove invaluable experience should you plan on becoming a university lecturer .

How Are Postdoc Positions Funded?

Postdocs are usually funded in one of three ways:

  • The postdoc secures the funding themselves . This can be achieved in several ways, with the most common being applying to opportunities put out by government, research or charity bodies. Examples of these opportunities include the  NWO Talent Programme Veni  and the  Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship . Securing funding under any of these schemes will provide you with a ‘stipend’ (which acts as your salary), and ‘’research funds’ for enabling the project. It’s worth noting that if you secure funding in this way, you won’t typically be restricted to any one university. Although when applying to these opportunities you’ll be required to indicate where you intended to undertake your research, if successful, you can take your funding and associated research project to any university or research institution of your choice.
  • A Principal Investigator (PI) secures a research grant  for a project, part of which will go towards hiring one or more postdoctoral assistants. In these scenarios, the university will employ you to work on the project they gained funding for.
  • A research body hires postdoctoral assistants irrespective of any new funding . In these scenarios, the researching body, who could be anyone from universities to research centres, charities and private organisations, may put aside their own funds to secure a postdoc assistant as a regular salaried employee.

What is the Average Postdoc Salary?

It goes without saying that the average salary for a postdoc will vary from role to role, with factors such as your country, your employer and your level of experience being influential factors.

If working as a university employee, your salary as a postdoc will be determined via a set pay scale known as the “ HE single pay spine “. Under this pay spine, a postdoc can expect to earn an average of £31,000 per year, though, in reality, a postdoc’s salary can range between £29,000 to £34,800.

On the other hand, the stipend (which will act as your postdoc salary) associated with the funding you have secured yourself will directly depend on the opportunity you acquire. Because of the wide range of possibilities, your potential stipend can vary considerably. As well as having a high variance, they also tend to have a higher ceiling compared to the salaries associated with a PI’s research grant or a research body’s employment. For example, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship can be worth over £50,000 per year. However, these types of fellowships are not only highly competitive but are also not an entirely fair comparison to postdoc assistant roles. This is due to the fact that a research fellow will be expected to have a greater amount of experience and to assume a higher level of responsibility than a regular postdoctoral researcher.

In case you’re thinking of working abroad, it would be useful to know that the median salary of a postdoctoral researcher in the United States is approximately $42,000 (£33,000 at the time of writing) per year.

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What is a Postdoc?

Most people outside of academia know what a PhD is, but a postdoc is more confusing. Are postdocs students? Do they actually earn a degree? Are they called postdoctoral researchers or fellows or scholars or associates or assistants? Let’s clear up some of that confusion.

So, What is a Postdoc?

In many fields, a postdoc is the de facto next step on the academic career path after earning a PhD (hence the name.) A postdoc is a temporary position that allows a PhD to continue their training as a researcher and gain skills and experience that will prepare them for their academic career. Most postdoc positions are at a university or in industry, but there some postdocs positions at nonprofits and in government. While the vast majority of postdocs work in STEM fields, these types of positions are becoming more common in social sciences and the humanities.  

What Does a Postdoc Do?

A postdoc is primarily a researcher who works under the supervision of a mentor as part of a larger research group. As such, they conduct research, either on a pre-specified project or one of their own design and publish that research. At the same time, a postdoc is meant to prepare young researchers to become principal investigators or junior faculty members, so they also take on senior responsibilities like mentoring, grant writing, and teaching.

How Long Are Postdoc Positions?

There is no set length for a postdoc. It will depend on a number of factors such as the university, country of research, PI, or funding. That being said, most positions are two to three years and some can be extended. It is common to do more than one postdoc before applying for faculty positions. Some countries do limit the total number of years a person can work as a postdoc. For example, in Canada and Sweden, it is only possible to be a postdoc for five years total, while there is no limit on postdoc years in the US.

How Are Postdocs Funded?

Postdoc positions can be funded in several ways. Some postdocs are salaried employees of a university, institution, or company. Other times they are paid a stipend from a grant, fellowship, or scholarship. In some countries, the name of the position indicates the funding source. In the UK for example, a postdoctoral assistant works on a project developed for and funded by a grant awarded to the PI, while a postdoctoral fellow is awarded their own fellowship giving them a larger say in the scope of their project.

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What is a PostDoc? – An Introduction

A postdoctoral fellowship, or ‘PostDoc’ position, is fixed-term research post for PhD graduates. This is normally a bridge between completing a PhD and pursuing a career in academia, but you can also do a PostDoc to gain further skills and training for other careers.

This page explains how PostDocs work, what they offer and how to apply.

On this page

What is a postdoc position.

PostDocs are generally temporary positions taken up by a PhD graduate to further their academic knowledge and acquire additional research training.

The research you carry out will usually be related to the work done during a PhD (as this is now your area of expertise!) but shouldn’t be on the exact same subject / problem as your doctoral research.

There are some exceptions to this however, for example when a PhD student is asked to do further studies that directly follow on from their PhD project, but at a postdoctoral level. This type of PostDoc is known as a transition PostDoc.

You can read about the different types of PostDoc in our guide.

What does a PostDoc do?

A PostDoc works on a specific research project outlined for their fellowship. In some ways this is similar to a shorter PhD, but the work you do may be more advanced and may not have a specific final outcome (such as a thesis). Instead you may help with one stage of an ongoing research project.

PostDocs are most common in STEM subjects, particularly Science and Engineering . You will be under the supervision of a principal investigator (PI) or mentor, assisting them with a common research interest. As a more confident and experienced researcher you have the freedom to delve into new things, techniques and equipment. This independence allows you take on projects of your own and explore new ideas that you think will benefit your field. In some ways this kind of PostDoc is a bit like being hired as an additional expert to help the PI and their team.

PostDocs are also available for Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences PhD graduates. These projects may be slightly more independent but will still be connected with existing academic work within a university department.

Unlike a PhD, a postdoctoral contract does not end with a thesis defence. Instead, your work is recognised through results and publications or, in the case of industrial research and development, improvement and / or launch of an effective product.

Example PostDoc projects

PostDocs can be just as varied as PhDs, but examples of the sort of thing you might do as a postdoctoral fellow include:

  • Assisting a digitisation project - helping convert print and manuscript sources into a form that can be used by other Arts and Humanities students and researchers, perhaps creating a published resource or service
  • Designing and / or carrying out large-scale qualitative research projects - ensuring data collected for Social Science research is accurate, ethically-compliant and useful
  • Contributing to ongoing laboratory studies - using the expert technical and methodological skills gained through a PhD to provide key input and assistance for Science and Engineering research groups
  • Carrying out public engagement work - helping researchers in all disciplines communicate their findings to the general public through media events, publications and collaborations with non-academic organisations

For other (real life) examples, browse the current PostDoc opportunities on our site.

Responsibilities outside of research

A PostDoc position isn’t all about the research. There are many other roles involved in a fellowship, using the skills and experience you have gained on your PhD. These include teaching, writing grants and funding proposals, presenting your findings to others and leading projects and other team members.

All of these are key skills for early-career academics and a PostDoc is an excellent way to gain them.

Teaching can be an essential requirement to progress further in your career and is also a part of postdoctoral work. This can involve lecturing, supervising undergraduate and Masters or assisting with the training of new PhD students. Gaining experience in applying for funding is also a key part of becoming a researcher and is another part of the PostDoc experience.

Doing a PostDoc can also prepare you for other careers as you will have more experience in managing ongoing research projects or achieving targeted research outcomes (in addition to your experience of completing a full PhD research project).

How long is a PostDoc?

A postdoctoral contract is usually about two or three years long, but this can depend on a number of things, such as the country of research, the area of research, the PI and the funding available. In general, a PostDoc is shorter than a PhD.

PhD graduates sometimes complete two or three PostDocs before applying for faculty positions or other, more permanent appointments outside of academia. On the other hand, a PostDoc is not always necessary for an academic job.

Most PostDocs take place soon after a PhD and are designed to fit the time in which doctoral graduates are still preparing to become early-career academics. University jobs designed for early-career academics will usually expect you to have earned your PhD in the last two-three years: this is the time in which you may have also completed a PostDoc.

PostDoc salary and funding

The average postdoctoral research salary in the UK is £31,990 and $48,825 in the United States*. You can see our guide to PostDocs in different countries to see the differences in salaries across the world.

How much you are paid on a PostDoc may depend on the type of position you apply for.

*From payscale.com

Postdoctoral employees

A PostDoc working at an industrial company or corporate body is paid like any other member of staff. You will be employed on a fixed-term basis with a regular salary and applicable employee benefits / other entitlements.

Postdoctoral fellowships

Fellowships are set grants or scholarships usually awarded to PostDocs at universities. You may be assigned to a pre-defined project, but could also have the freedom to pursue a specific research direction defined in your application.

This postdoctoral fellowship usually covers salary, relocation costs, travel costs and research expenses and is awarded to an individual based on merit.

Funding for fellowships may be provided by Research Councils, charities and trusts – similar to PhD studentships. There are different types of fellowships available, such as mobility schemes and travel fellowships that provide support for research to be done elsewhere in the world.

Organisations such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) often offer postdoctoral fellowships for European citizens. Other PostDoc funding bodies include the Leverhulme trust and Marie Curie fellowships, or the Max Weber programme which is an international PostDoc programme.

This article is the property of FindAPostDoc.com and may not be reproduced without permission.

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Postdoctoral fellowships and research explained

phd or postdoc

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • A postdoctoral (postdoc) fellowship refers to a training and research opportunity in a specific field that students can complete after their PhD or doctorate.
  • Types of programs include academic, industry and agency.
  • Some benefits of a fellowship are building a strong professional network and gaining additional knowledge and skills.
  • Learn about online doctoral programs in business, education, health administration and nursing at University of Phoenix.

A postdoctoral fellowship, or “ postdoc ,” is a period of training and research that some students pursue after completing a PhD or doctorate. It can provide many benefits, including the opportunity to further improve research skills while building your network.

The program you choose will depend on your skills and your professional field. Many popular fields offer research associations and fellowships, including neuroscience, biology, chemistry, business, healthcare, humanities and political science.

Learn more about online doctorates at University of Phoenix. 

What does postdoctoral mean?

Postdoctoral fellowships provide doctoral graduates with the opportunity to pursue further research opportunities in their fields. Students participate in a fellowship to improve their skills and knowledge during research and to potentially assist in their transition to a tenure-track academic position. Some students also participate in programs as they work their way into the professional world.

The length of a postdoctoral program can vary, depending on your institution and field of study. Many positions typically last one to two years, though some last up to five years. Your specific research project and available funding can also affect the length of a fellowship.

Do postdocs get paid?

Postdocs are generally paid positions , though the payment amount varies widely. Factors like your experience, program, funding and project length can all affect how much you’re paid for your research efforts.

Dependent on their program, some recipients are granted a benefits package in exchange for their work. These packages often include paid time off, health insurance and a retirement savings plan. Some benefits packages also offer housing allowances and reimbursement for travel-related expenses.

Although prestigious, these positions often pay less than a professional one in the same field.

Who is eligible for postdoc positions?

PhD graduates in science, technology, engineering and math ( STEM ) fields are most likely to pursue postdoctoral research opportunities. However, graduates of other research doctoral programs can also participate in these programs to achieve many of the same benefits.

Eligibility is also determined by previous education and experience. Most participants will have completed a doctoral degree within the last few years. They also have strong skills in research, communication and teamwork, and demonstrate a desire to continue their education past the doctoral level.

Some opportunities are subject to certain requirements or parameters, such as guidelines or experience in a particular field. For example, you might need to be of a specific nationality, hold a certain degree or have experience with particular research methods to participate in a given postdoc program.

How to apply for a postdoc

The process to apply for these opportunities will depend on your preferences and the institution offering the program. Postdocs are usually funded and posted on job boards, academic websites, through professional societies and at other locations. You’ll need a resumé or CV highlighting your strengths and experience in research, along with details about your career goals.

If your application is selected, you may need to participate in an interview process. Leaders at the institution will ask further questions to determine how you may contribute to their program.

Some institutions and funding sources have different application processes and steps. For example, a program might require that you submit a research proposal or that you have a certain number of already-published articles in your field. The type of research a postdoc program requires will help determine the parameters for application.

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phd or postdoc

What is doctoral candidacy?

Types of postdoctoral research.

Doctoral graduates can pursue many types of postdoctoral research fellowship opportunities based on their career interests. The opportunities represent one of several career options for doctoral graduates and give participants the chance to contribute to their field.

Academic postdocs offer research opportunities to doctoral graduates, individuals who typically want to pursue a career in academia. These positions are typically funded and posted by academic institutions and offer recipients the chance to contribute research to a university.

An academic postdoc places participants in close proximity with field analysts and senior researchers — experts who serve as mentors and valuable networking contacts. They work on independent or group projects, contributing to research eventually published under the institution’s name.

An industry postdoc is a research opportunity for aspiring business professionals who want to work in the private sector. These programs are often offered by private research firms, including companies and institutions that might be affiliated with a university’s fellowship.

Postdoctoral research fellowships in the private sector provide graduates with the chance to perform research on behalf of an independent firm . For example, students might participate in an industry program that focuses on pharmaceutical science, energy, cloud computing, biotechnology or aerospace engineering.

In other cases, students might pursue an agency postdoc — a research opportunity typically offered by a government agency . A state or the federal government or a government-funded project fund and offer these programs.

In some cases, this allows students to work directly for a large government organization like the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . In other cases, independent branches of government sponsor smaller programs.

Agencies can lead to careers working for the government or for a public or private research firm; they can also create careers in academia due to their wide scope.

phd or postdoc

Dr. Julie M. Ballaro shepherds doctoral students to success

Pros and cons of postdoc positions.

For some participants, the postdoc path is rewarding and career changing . For others, a fellowship might create problems for their work-life balance or financial situation. It’s important to consider the positive and negative aspects of a potential fellowship before accepting to make the best decision for the next stage of your career.

Reasons to participate in a postdoctoral fellowship

Participation in a postdoc has some advantages. You’ll meet new people, research new topics and deepen key skills.

Here are some more potential benefits :

  • Gaining additional research experience and training
  • Working with experienced mentors and building a stronger network
  • Developing new skills and strategies for use during your career
  • Learning new and emerging strategies and techniques
  • Potentially learning how to establish further research funding and other funding opportunities

These and other benefits mean a postdoc can be a great next step for many doctoral graduates passionate about research opportunities in their field.

Things to consider about a postdoc

Postdoc opportunities aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking to immediately join the professional world or you’re not excited by the prospect of ongoing research, a postdoc may not be the best option.

Here are a few other reasons why this path may be one you avoid:

  • Programs might end after a few years or funding concludes
  • Limited time for family, personal life and other priorities
  • Income levels remain below what industry professionals make
  • High pressure from funding institutions or agencies to produce results
  • Competitive market for available positions
  • Little control over your research topic or methodologies

These points are sometimes enough for doctoral graduates to look elsewhere for a job.

Alternatives to postdoctoral fellowships

It’s important to consider all options when making decisions about the next phase of your career. While postdocs can be incredibly beneficial, they are not the only employment option that can meaningfully improve your career.

Some graduates will consider a postdoc before launching a professional career . These jobs might still offer some research responsibilities so candidates can continue learning and building skills before transitioning to better paying professional roles.

Doctoral programs at University of Phoenix

If you’re looking to distinguish yourself in your field and considering a doctorate, University of Phoenix offers five online programs nationwide.

  • Doctor of Business Administration — Develop a mindset of change and innovation that breaks the sea of sameness. Our Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) can help you gain a strategic vision and skills to position yourself as a business leader.
  • Doctor of Education — This prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education.
  • Doctor of Health Administration — If you’re a health professional who is seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, the Doctor of Health Administration can help you get there. You’ll meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Doctor of Management — This program equips you with critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to complex problems, so you can bring out the best of your leadership skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice — This program is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. It does not prepare students for professional certification or state licensure as a nurse or as an advanced practice nurse.

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National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), Institute of Medicine (US), Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000.

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Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies.

  • Hardcopy Version at National Academies Press

1 Postdoctoral Scholars in US Institutions

Since the 1960s, the performance of research in the United States has relied more and more on graduate scientists and engineers who have recently earned a PhD or equivalent doctorate and are pursuing further education and training in their field or learning a new specialty. These postdoctoral scholars, or postdocs, work on a full-time but temporary basis for one or more years to gain additional research experience in preparation for a professional research career. Figure 1-1 1 shows that the vast majority of all postdocs who received doctorates at US institutions work in universities (approximately 80 percent), with smaller percentages working in government (13 percent) and industry (7 percent). The number of postdoctoral scholars has increased in all sectors since 1981. Within academia (see Table 1-1 ) 272 institutions have postdocs, with the largest number concentrated at the research-intensive institutions.

  • Population growth

The roots of the postdoctoral phenomenon reach back just over a century to the 1870s, when high-level apprenticeships became part of the new European-modeled research institution. Johns Hopkins University adopted the apprenticeship model shortly after its founding in 1876, and in the 1920s the Rockefeller Foundation established formal postdoctoral fellowships in physical science, recognizing that physics had become too complex to learn within the time limits of traditional programs.

The hiring of postdocs grew only modestly during the first half of the twentieth century. The first period of rapid growth began in the late 1950s, when the Cold War stimulated federal spending and a sudden demand for scientists and engineers. PhDs awarded in science and engineering approximately tripled from 1960–1970. 2 Increasingly, those completing graduate school (20–30 percent in most sciences, 50 percent in biomedicine) took postdoc positions to broaden or deepen their experience before moving to faculty or other research career opportunities. The nation’s laboratories began to count on this new corps of skilled, low-cost apprentices to increase the productivity and quality of research.

Total Number of Postdoctoral Appointments in the Life Sciences, Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, and the Social/Behavioral Sciences, by Sector, 1981–1997. Source: 1981, 1985, 1989, 1993, and 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

By the end of that decade growth had slowed. In the early 1970s the baby boom cohort passed through the system, recession came, and the government reduced support of graduate fellowships quite abruptly. 3 The smaller pool of graduate students left laboratories short-handed and, partly as a response, the number of non-US graduate students increased.

TABLE 1-1. Top 25 Academic Institutions with the Largest Total Number of Postdoctoral Appointments in 1998.

Top 25 Academic Institutions with the Largest Total Number of Postdoctoral Appointments in 1998.

  • A changing pattern

By the late 1970s, the pattern of postdoctoral behavior began to change. Numbers of postdocs increased as PhD labor markets weakened. The time spent as postdocs began to lengthen, suggesting difficulty in finding jobs. A substantial number of those receiving PhDs reported that they became postdocs because they had few other options. 4

Employment conditions improved somewhat in the mid- and late 1980s, but the recession of the early 1990s brought longer-lasting sluggishness and caution in university hiring. 5 With limited permanent job prospects, the population of postdocs reached unprecedented size 6 and postdoctoral terms lengthened. 7 Meanwhile the number of non-US graduate students and new PhDs in science and engineering leveled off in the early 1990s having grown for many years.

Postdoctoral Appointees in Academic Institutions by Broad Fields, 1980–1998. Source: Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, 1980–1998.

Overall, the most significant growth in the postdoctoral population has taken place in the last 15 years ( Figure 1-1 ). According to data gathered by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the number of postdocs in university departments of science and engineering more than doubled between 1981 and 1998, rising from approximately 18,000 to 39,000 (see Figure 1-2 ). A figure for the exact population of science and engineering postdocs across all sectors (including government and the private sector) is not available, but it is estimated to be approximately 52,000. 8 Slightly more than half of these postdocs are non-US citizens.

It is difficult to predict whether this upward trend will continue. Figure 1-3 provides a history of the number of doctorates who are planning postdoctoral study compared to the total number of doctorates for the three fields that account for most of the postdocs in science and engineering: biological science, chemistry, and physics/astronomy. Interestingly, the proportion of doctorates planning postdoctoral study was roughly constant from 1975–1994. However, beginning around 1994 the trends were no longer parallel, as a declining number of recent US doctorates have been planning postdoctoral study in the three fields examined.

Number of Doctorates and the Number Planning Postdoctoral Study, 1975–1998, by Field. Source: 1975–1998 Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Postgraduation Plans of Science and Engineering Doctorates at the Time They Received Their Degree, 1998. Source: 1998 Survey of Earned Doctorates.

  • The importance of postdocs to research

As a whole, the postdoctoral population has become indispensable to the science and engineering enterprise, performing a substantial portion of the nation’s research in every setting. For example, a survey of research articles in two recent issues of Science found that 43 percent of the first authors were postdocs. 9 In many labs, postdocs also educate, train, and supervise junior members, help write grant proposals and papers, and present the laboratory’s research results at professional society meetings. More than 15 universities have postdoctoral populations that exceed 500 (see Table 1-1 ).

Postdoctoral experiences are increasingly seen as central to careers in research. As illustrated in Figure 1-4 , about 40 percent of the 1998 doctorates that plan to remain in the US will enter postdoctoral study rather than regular employment. A postdoctoral appointment is a virtual prerequisite for those wishing to carry out long-term, independent research in the life sciences, physics, chemistry, and a growing number of other fields. 10 In addition, postdocs with experience in non-research settings (e.g., AAAS Congressional fellowships, National Academies internships) can substantially enhance their potential for employment in government and non-governmental organizations.

Median Number of Years Spent in Postdoctorate Appointment for Doctorates in the 1989–1991 Year Cohort, by Degree Field and Citizenship at Time of Degree. Source: 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

  • Postdoctoral terms

COSEPUP Survey Results How Is the Duration of a Postdoctoral Appointment Determined?

Responses to this question were divided fairly evenly. The largest number (58 percent) reported that the duration of an appointment may be determined primarily by the adviser at any time during the appointment. Almost as many (55 percent) reported that duration is determined primarily by the source of funding and/or funding availability. Some 45 percent reported that duration is determined before a postdoc’s arrival.

Many institutions reported firm limits on postdoctoral terms (typically 3, 4, or 5 years). Others allowed for extensions “in special cases,” which sometimes required the approval of an administration officer. Other policies were 1) to appoint post-docs for a year at a time, with renewal depending on funding and performance, and 2) to allow the length of training to vary by field and source of funding, with no suggested limit.

  • Multiple postdoctoral positions

In some fields, such as neuroscience, genetics, and epidemiology, more than one postdoctoral position may be useful to gain multidisciplinary expertise. In other fields, a tight job market forces some researchers to complete two or even three postdoctoral appointments while they hunt for jobs. In some cases, multiple postdoctoral appointments may bring many years of low compensation and a lack of security and stability that is demoralizing and stressful. This is of special concern for postdocs with families. In other cases, researchers may continue beyond their postdoctoral term to spend their careers in successive soft-money positions they find challenging and rewarding.

  • Unmet expectations

By design, the experience of postdocs should be professionally productive and career enhancing. For many of them, however, the experience falls short of expectations. They often fail to achieve the recognition, standing, or compensation that is commensurate with their experience and skills (See Table 1-2 for salary comparisons). It is not uncommon for postdocs to hold uncertain standing in the institutions where they work, to receive inadequate mentoring or technical supervision and, in some fields, to accept stipends and benefits substantially below those of their professional peers in academia, government, or industry, as well as below those of non-PhD technicians. Some researchers continue to be categorized as “postdocs” for a decade or more after completing their doctorate.

TABLE 1-2. Comparison of Postdoc Annual Median Earnings with Other Populations, 1997–1998.

Comparison of Postdoc Annual Median Earnings with Other Populations, 1997–1998.

Many postdocs voice frustration at not finding the kinds of positions they anticipated—notably, academic positions—when they began their many years of graduate and postdoctoral education. According to the Survey of Doctoral Recipients, the opportunities for doctorates and postdoctorates to move into faculty positions have decreased significantly since 1987 (see Figure 1-6 for the ratio of tenured faculty positions to number of doctorates). A substantial minority of postdocs in all fields reported difficulty in finding the jobs they wanted, and that the reason for taking a first postdoctoral appointment was that “other employment was not available” (see Figure 1-7 ). The NRC’s Trends report on the life sciences noted a 42 percent increase in PhD production between 1987 and 1996 that “was not accompanied by a parallel increase in employment opportunities.” 12 The report stated that many recent graduates who are unable to find full-time positions use the postdoctoral experience as a “holding pattern.” 13

Similarly, an on-line survey of Baylor University School of Medicine’s post-docs in 1997 indicated that 34 percent had prolonged their terms because of difficulty in finding other employment; only 6 percent reported a “permanent career position that will start in the next 12 months.” 14

  • Variations by field and sector

It is difficult, however, to draw broad conclusions about postdoctoral experiences, which vary widely by field and by sector. In some fields, such as computer science and engineering, there is relatively little incentive to pursue a postdoc—or even a PhD—because rewarding jobs are available at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. In other fields, such as biology and physics, a postdoc is virtually mandatory, especially for academic employment. Some postdocs, especially in government or industrial laboratories, are paid better than some junior faculty. Stipends for academic postdocs, however, especially in the life sciences and chemistry, may be $15,000 to $20,000 lower than for government or industry postdocs ( Figure 1-8 ). Even within a single discipline, experiences differ across advisers, programs, employment sectors, and geographic regions.

At its focus groups and workshop discussions, COSEPUP heard lively debates on the quality of the postdoc experience (see Appendixes ). There was little disagreement about the potential value of research activities—almost all discussants agreed that the postdoctoral period can be one of the most professionally rewarding of their lives. The debate focused instead on institutional standing, compensation, benefits, and other issues, which cause many postdocs to question the value of the experience. As some indicated, the lost-opportunity costs of forsaking other employment begin to outweigh the benefits of an otherwise fulfilling experience.

Ratio of the Number of Tenured Faculty to the Number of New Doctorates Awarded in 1987 and 1997. Source: 1987 and 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

Reasons for Taking First Postdoctoral Appointment, by Field of Doctorate, 1997. Source: Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 1997.

Median Salaries in 1997 for Doctorates in the Six-Year PhD Cohort, 1991–1996, by Field, Sector, and Type of Appointment. Source: 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients. Note: Non-faculty researchers are full-time academic personnel who do not have (more...)

Some postdoc advisers and representatives of funding organizations indicated that the low compensation received by many postdocs is justified because it is offset by the benefits of supervised education and training. 15 Some postdocs, however, stated that they are regarded primarily as a “skilled pair of hands” that support the work of the principal investigator (PI), rather than as junior colleagues who only require further education and training to move toward their own research independence.

  • Increasing age

Issues of standing and compensation are exacerbated by the increasing age of the postdoctoral population. Today’s junior scientists and engineers take longer to complete their doctorates (the average PhD recipient in the life sciences is 32 years old), 16 and many then take two or even three postdoctoral positions. In the Baylor survey, 67 percent of respondents were over age 30 and 21 percent were over age 35; 46 percent had children. The NSF reports a similar picture among the postdocs it funds (see further discussion in Chapter 2 ). Although many postdocs have families that include children, few institutions or funding organizations provide family health insurance, child care, or other family benefits received by others of similar professional stature. The same is true of their salary ( Table 1-2 ).

  • A debate over responsibility

Another debate that emerged during focus groups concerned whether the host institution or the funding organization bears the primary responsibility for providing benefits and oversight for the postdoc.

Some PI’s are reluctant to increase the salaries of their postdocs due to limited funds and the possible reduction in the number of postdocs they could fund. Even if they wish to do so, postdoc advisers indicated they face barriers from both the institution and the funding organization at the proposal acceptance stage and once funding is received. Some major funding organizations stated that institutions are directly responsible because they set salary compensation levels and receive funding (as a designated portion of each grant) from which to provide fringe benefits. Many institutions contend that funding organizations are primarily responsible, because they set the standard at which most postdocs are compensated. In particular, many universities use the scale NIH has developed for its National Research Service Award as it is the only standard available. Further, some federal funding organizations (including NIH) prohibit supplementing a fellowship from other federal grants. The postdocs themselves expressed frustration at having no role in these debates.

In this guide, COSEPUP provides information, principles, and recommendations for all involved in the postdoctoral experience with the goal of enhancing the postdoc experience while preserving the excellence of the research enterprise.

Summary Points

Since the 1960s the performance of research, especially in universities, has relied more and more on a growing population of postdoctoral scholars.

The size of the postdoctoral population has increased without a parallel increase in the number of academic faculty positions.

Postdoctoral experience is now seen as a virtual prerequisite for academic careers and many other research positions in the life sciences, physics, chemistry, and some other fields.

The postdocs themselves do not always achieve recognition, status, or compensation commensurate with their experience and skill.

Many postdocs remain in their positions for an indefinite number of years, beyond the five years or so during which they are reasonably considered trainees.

Many postdocs report frustration at not finding the employment positions they anticipated in return for their years of intensive effort.

The demographic characteristics of postdocs are changing. Many postdocs are in their middle to late 30s, with families that include children, and their medical and family support needs have increased.

The data for the figures and a detailed description of the data sources for the tables and figures in the guide can be found in Appendix B .

Fechter, A. E., and Gaddy, C. D. “Trends in Doctoral Education and Employment.” Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research , Vol. XIII. New York: Agathon Press, 1998.

Breneman, D. W. Graduate School Adjustments to the ‘New Depression’ in Higher Education . National Board on Graduate Education Technical Report No. 3. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1975.

Zumeta, W. Extending the Educational Ladder: The Changing Quality and Value of Postdoctoral Study . Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath/Lexington Books, 1985.

Zumeta, W. “State Higher Education Finance and Policy Developments: 1997.” The NEA 1998 Almanac of Higher Education . Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1998.

Association of American Universities. Committee on Postdoctoral Education, Report and Recommendations . Washington, DC, 1998.

Regets, M. “Has the Use of Postdocs Changed?” National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Studies Issue Brief . NSF 99-310, 1999.

Figure 1-2 only provides information for postdoctoral scholars who received their degrees from US universities. No source of data includes all sectors that employ postdoctoral scholars regardless of where they received their degree. This is important, given the large number of postdoctoral scholars who come to the United States from other countries. However, a rough estimate can be made by comparing data from several NSF sources (see Appendix E for discussion of sources). In 1997, the last year for which sector data exists, the number of postdoctoral appointments in academic institutions was 73 percent of the total appointments across all sectors. From the 39,619 academic appointments one can infer a total population of about 52,000.

Vogel, G. Science , 1999, Vol. 285, p. 1531.

Nearly a decade ago, Steven Sample, president of the University of Southern California and chair of the Postdoctoral Education Committee of the Association of American Universities, stated that “…in an increasing number of fields, the postdoctorate is becoming the terminal credential, with the result that the PhD in those fields, while still very important, is becoming de facto an interim milestone.” See: AAU, Committee on Postdoctoral Education, Report and Recommendations , Washington, DC: March 31, 1998.

AAU, Committee on Postdoctoral Education, Report and Recommendations , 1998.

Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel, National Research Council, Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists . Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1998. [ PubMed : 20845561 ]

The report states: “The frustration of young [life] scientists caught in the holding pattern is understandable. These people, most of whom are 35–40 years old, typically receive low salaries and have little job security or status within the university. Moreover, they are competing with a rapidly growing pool of highly talented young scientists—including many highly qualified foreign postdoctoral fellows—for a limited number of jobs….”

See www ​.bcm.tmc.edu/pda/reference/proposal ​.html

E.g., good supervision, depending on the postdoc’s level of experience and skill, might include guidance in planning a research program, obtaining funding, managing a lab, mentoring others, and finding a permanent position.

The NRC’s report Trends in the Early Careers of Life Scientists found that life scientists in the 1990s took two years longer to complete a doctorate than their predecessors of the 1960s and 70s.

  • Cite this Page National Academy of Sciences (US), National Academy of Engineering (US), Institute of Medicine (US), Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 1, Postdoctoral Scholars in US Institutions.
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PhDs & Postdocs: Explore

As a PhD student or postdoctoral scholar, we are excited to help you explore what’s next, no matter your interests or goals. 

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Leverage Your Network

To explore pathways and to learn about how your interests, skills, and values align with a diverse array of careers, we encourage you to activate your network , including Stanford’s robust network of PhD and postdoc alums.

  • Stanford Alumni Mentoring (SAM) is a platform that allows you to reach out to Stanford alums for career conversations.
  • Access CareerEd’s Informational Interviewing resources on Handshake to learn how to make connections and have valuable conversations
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  • Learn how to find alums, make connections, and conduct informational interviews by accessing the Stanford Alumni Association’s resources .

Career Guide

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Our Careers Strategies Guide for PhDs and Postdocs is a comprehensive resource that provides advice on how to explore your interests and pursue a meaningful career both within and beyond academia.

Higher Education Administration Directory (HEAD)

phd or postdoc

The Higher Education Administration Directory (HEAD) is a searchable directory of Stanford staff from across the University who hold doctoral degrees. Using this directory, you can connect with and learn from others with PhDs–humanists, scientists, social scientists, engineers–who have forged careers in various higher education administrative staff roles at Stanford. Learn more about the career paths represented in the directory. 

Events, Programs, and Resources

Access Handshake for more programs, panels, and workshops.

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PhD Pathways

PhD Pathways programs educate PhD students and postdocs from all disciplines about career pathways available beyond academia. PhD Pathways is an annual one-day conference. We recorded PhD Pathways panels in 2020-22.

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Humanists at Large

Humanists at Large (HAL) is an annual program that exposes PhD students in the humanities, arts, and humanistic social sciences to meaningful work beyond academia that capitalizes on humanistic knowledge and skills.

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Grad Grow from VPGE is a tool to help you explore and sort through the many professional development resources available to you at Stanford, including career development.

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Career Fairs

Career Fairs are an excellent way to connect with employers to learn about job and internship opportunities along with the specific skills they are seeking. CareerEd hosts several career fairs each academic year featuring employers excited to connect with PhDs and postdocs.

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Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) hosts regular programs and events to support postdocs in their career and professional development.

CareerEd is involved in the following Stanford courses designed to help PhDs and postdocs explore their path to meaningful, purposeful work.Stanford has many additional career-focused courses available. These can be found by searching "career" on Stanford Explore Courses .

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Designing the Professional (ENGR 311B)

Graduate students and postdocs apply principles of design thinking to designing your professional life.

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Crafting Your Humanist Career (DLCL 326)

PhD students from all humanities disciplines learn how to chart a deliberate path through graduate school and explore diverse careers. 

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Integrative Learning Portfolio Lab (ILPL)

The ILPL helps PhDs and postdocs identify their current online story and curate it into an ePortfolio medium by identifying and translating their skills.

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What to Do After PhD? – Pros and Cons of Pursuing Postdoc

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“Received my PhD. Where do I go from here? What to do after PhD?”—is one of the most common challenges for students who have recently graduated. So if you’re stuck at this point of deciding whether to go ahead with academia or switch to a non-academic career, you’re not alone! How do you plan on taking what you have learned in your PhD and capitalize on it? How do you start your new career or use your PhD to take the next step in your existing one?

What to Do After PhD?

After having spent endless hours conducting your research and passing up enjoyable opportunities to complete your dissertation, you have finally attained the coveted doctorate degree. It’s a remarkable feat! But one struggle that holds on to you is—what do you do now that you’ve finished your PhD?

Be it from your seniors at the university or just having heard it from scholars in your field, one thing you may have realized is that tenure-track positions in academia are hard to come by.  Despite the “default” propensity of PhD graduates pursuing academic research positions, they’re now moving beyond it. Additionally, an uncertain future in academia is a factor of concern amongst all. Here we shall discuss what to do after PhD?—and focus on the pros and cons of pursuing postdoc to make a calculated decision.

Should I Pursue Postdoc?

Navigating through the career waters after PhD can be quite treacherous. Moreover, with the job market in academia being intensely competitive, even students with excellent academic caliber aren’t assured of getting a position.

While the competition is persistent, doing a postdoc is becoming a prerequisite for a successful career. However, your zeal and confidence of wanting to stay in academia can take you a long way. The preliminary postdoc benefits to consider while applying for postdoc are:

  • Additional time to expand your research through funding.
  • Publish more research work to support or expand your research conducted during Phd.
  • More opportunities for networking and collaboration.

Pros of Pursuing Postdoc

While the answer to “What to do after postdoc?” can vary for every researcher depending on their interests, the undeniable benefits of a postdoc position can’t be overseen.

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.

It’s undoubtedly a great feat to have successfully defended your PhD dissertation. How do you decide? What to do after PhD? What do you choose? Let these pros and cons help you in taking a well thought out decision. Tell us how this article helped you in the comments section below! You can also visit our Q&A forum for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.

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PhD or PostDoc

Phd (doctor of philosophy) or post doc.

The terminal degree in science is the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy).  It requires coursework and a significant body of publishable research including a dissertation.  Most programs begin with a year of courses exploring primary literature (rather than textbooks) during which time students may also rotate through several research labs.  In other programs, students are admitted by a specific faculty member and will begin work with that faculty mentor immediately.  Once core coursework is completed, generally after the second year in the program, students take a candidacy exam.  After successful completion, the student is considered a candidate for the PhD. During the remainder of the program, coursework is usually reduced to specialized seminar classes with the bulk of time spent doing research. There is no set amount of time to complete a PhD; most students require around 5 years to finish.

Students are typically supported by the department or faculty mentor or by competitive research fellowships won by the student. Support generally includes a living stipend and the cost of tuition and fees. Departmental support may be in the form of a teaching assistantship (TA) requiring students to teach one or more lab sections or otherwise assist in undergraduate teaching.  Some departments obtain training grants from NIH or NSF to support research assistantships (RA’s) while many students are supported from research grants earned by their faculty mentors.  Students are always encouraged to seek outside funding.

What do PostDocs do?

Upon completion of the PhD, individuals will often continue to do research in laboratories headed by others for several more years. During this time they will gain more skill in designing and executing experiments, writing peer reviewed publications, presentations, grant writing, and supervising others.  Obtaining a position as a tenure-track faculty at a research university is very competitive and applicants must have demonstrated the ability to produce a substantial body of research and obtain funding for their work.  Individuals may also choose to pursue careers in biotechnology companies after earning a PhD or following postdoctoral training.

How do I best prepare for admission to a program?

The core Biology and Genetics coursework and required supporting courses meet the standards for admission to almost any life sciences graduate program.  The science electives you choose will depend upon the specific areas in which you are most interested.  While the minimum acceptable GPA is 3.0 for most programs, you should strive to achieve a 3.5 or better.  It is important to find out if you enjoy research.  Definitely plan to participate in several research experiences as an undergraduate, beginning as early as the second semester of your freshman year.  Consider HON 290 if in the Honors program or Biology 423L (Developmental Biology Lab) which can be taken during any spring semester and is repeatable up to 4 times.  You can earn up to 9 credits of GEN 499 and use up to 3 of those credits toward your advanced science electives.  Research helps you to develop organizational, problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills and a close relationship with mentors who can then provide meaningful letters of recommendation.  Teaching experience (as a tutor, undergraduate TA or LA, peer mentor, or SI leader) will also be valuable in developing communication skills and will prepare you for being a graduate TA.

Traditionally, applicants have been required to take the general  Graduate Record Exam (GRE) , including, in some cases the subject area GRE.  Some programs are no longer requiring this. Applications include a personal statement and several letters of recommendation.  Selected applicants are invited to interviews.  In some departments, a faculty research mentor must be willing to offer a position to a student before admission; in other departments, even within the same university, a faculty admissions committee makes the decisions on applicants.


Melinda (Lindy) Brastrom

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2013; PhD candidate, Integrated Biology, University of Iowa

The coursework and research opportunities available at Iowa State were fantastic. Through my adviser, I was able to  study abroad in Valencia, Spain  which allowed me to take ecology-based courses not available in Iowa and work in a research lab for the summer. That research experience in Spain pushed me to seek additional research when I returned to Iowa State. I began an  Undergraduate Research Assistantship  in a beef cattle genetics lab during my junior and senior years which provided me with additional valuable, hands-on research experience. The preparation I got at Iowa State prepared me for my current position a PhD candidate studying zebrafish development at the University of Iowa.  

Raegan Hoefler

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2018; PhD student in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics, University of Wisconsin – Madison

The coursework, research experiences, and mentoring and leadership opportunities provided to me as an undergraduate in Genetics at Iowa State University prepared me excellently for graduate school. The advanced genetics courses in the program are quite comprehensive and supplementing that knowledge by doing research in a lab on campus is very beneficial and appealing to employers and graduate schools. I was able to directly apply the knowledge, hands-on skills, and critical thinking abilities that I developed from all these aspects of my undergraduate degree to my current research in barley and wheat quantitative genetics which will hopefully lead me to a rewarding career in plant breeding/genetics.

Kay-Marie Lamar

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2008; PhD University of Chicago, 2015

Current Position:  Postdoc, Northwestern University, Chicago

I’m currently a postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern University, working on the genetic mechanisms of a chromatin remodeling protein associated with epilepsy. My biggest advice to undergraduates in genetics/the biological sciences is to get a position working in a research lab. While I was an undergrad at Iowa State, I worked in the lab of Dr. Erik Vollbrecht who studies maize genetics. During my senior year I was able to work on my own project, which gave me a glimpse at what being a scientist in academia was like, including creative thinking, experimentation, and troubleshooting. To get a position, you can check out the ISU job boards for postings, but other labs may be open to taking motivated students if you just cold-email different faculty whose research you are interested in.​

Amanda Loke

Education:  BS Genetics, ISU, 2017; PhD student in Cancer Biology, University of Wisconsin - Madison

It’s hard to emphasize how incredibly critical the Genetics program is in equipping me with the knowledge, skill set and mental preparation I needed to navigate graduate school. My research experience, starting from the first 313 lab module to my time as a teaching assistant in the very same module, and as an undergraduate research assistant, helped inform me of passion for research. The mentors in the Genetics program taught me not only new knowledge, but also how to think as a scientific scholar; needless to say, they played a huge part in molding my scientific outlook and perspective till today.

Grant Nickles

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2020; PhD student in Cellular and Molecular Biology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, starting fall 2020

My freshman year I thought I wanted to do genetic counseling, then I switched wanting a medical degree, and finally landed on pursuing a career in research. One of the best parts of this degree is how it enables you to gain exposure to a wide variety of different career paths. With ISU genetics I was able to conduct research all four years of college, receive a competitive internship for a biotech startup in California, TA courses, and study abroad. I was honored to receive the NSF GRFP honorable mention for my work with the Biorenewables center at ISU. I am interested in the intersection of genetics and environmental sustainability and will be continuing this research at UW-Madison's Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. 

Megan (Merolla) Rasmussen

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2014; PhD student in Biomedical Science, Vanderbilt University

Interested in studying genetic disease from a young age, I attended Iowa State from 2011-2014, majoring in Genetics and minoring in Microbiology. The Genetics program at Iowa State comprises a close-knit community which offers a unique set of courses and research opportunities – one of the most influential experiences for me was my independent work with Dr. Clark Coffman as an undergraduate research assistant. Currently, I am in my last year of Ph.D. studies at Vanderbilt University in the lab of Dr. Vivian Gama, where I study mechanisms at the intersection of programmed cell death and mitochondrial biology in human pluripotent stem cells. I was honored to win the  Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar in 2019.   As a result of this award, I am mentored by the 2019 winner of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, Dr. Christine Seidman.

Marah Runtsch

Education: BS, Genetics, ISU, 2010: PhD in Pathology, University of Utah, 2017

Current Position: Postdoc, Immunology, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

My experience at Iowa State in the Genetics program prepared me for a successful career in academic research; many of the labs/courses (favorites including evolution, molecular genetics, developmental biology) gave me the knowledge, experience, and connections to get accepted into the Molecular Biology PhD program at University of Utah. I graduated with my PhD in 2017 and am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. My research explores the interplay between cell metabolism and the immune system (termed immunometabolism), where we are discovering new pathways and drugs to treat inflammatory diseases. 

Courtney Smith

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2018; PhD student Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

I am extraordinarily fortunate to have started in an undergraduate program that prioritizes undergraduate research opportunities. My early involvement in labwork prepared me for competitive summer research internships and propelled me to become a  Goldwater Scholar . I am now a thriving graduate student studying neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic!

Garrett Smith

Education: BS Genetics/Microbiology, ISU, 2014; PhD, Microbiology, The Ohio State University, 2019

Current Position: Postdoc, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands

As an undergraduate majoring in genetics at ISU, I gained an appreciation for the past, present, and future of genetics in academic (research), industrial (application), and even political (regulation) sectors. The scientific writing courses I took were invaluable for developing my ability to extract useful information from complex pieces of writing, as well as helping me earn awards to support conference travel and cover a majority of the costs of my graduate studies. Taking advanced lecture and laboratory courses prepared my brain and hands for earning a PhD describing the impacts of microorganisms on greenhouse gas cycling in wetlands and rivers, and a research position focused on understanding the microorganisms responsible for nitrogen removal during wastewater treatment, both using state-of-the-art genomic sequencing technologies (metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, etc.). I also recall the strong sense of community between my peers and mentors at all levels, creating a comfortable, social, and professional environment that supported and pushed everyone within it to the best of their abilities.

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2019; PhD student, Molecular Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University

I began in a competitive Pharmacology PhD program at Vanderbilt University the fall following my graduation from Iowa State, and my experiences through the Genetics program were large contributions to my success. The wide variety of advanced courses gave me a depth of understanding in many biomedical subjects, the strong emphasis on undergraduate research encouraged me early on to engage in lab work both on campus and over the summers in undergraduate research fellowships, and the dedicated Genetics department faculty members served as constant mentors to bolster my future plans. I wouldn't be on the path I am today toward becoming a biomedical researcher and professor if not for my time as a Genetics major.

Kody Waldstein

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2012; PhD student, Immunology, University of Iowa

During my time as an undergraduate in the ISU genetics program, I was exposed to a wide variety of high level science ranging from plant breeding and population genetics to microbiology and infectious disease. Knowing I had a strong interest in viral genetics, the genetics advising coordinator, Dr. Lois Girton, suggested that I speak to Dr. Susan Carpenter, an established virologist, about working in her lab. The undergraduate research I did in Dr. Carpenter's lab cemented my love for virology leading to a management position in vaccine research and ultimately led to my decision to pursue a PhD in immunology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. 

Sarah Zelle

Education:  BS Biochemistry and Genetics, ISU, 2020; Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vanderbilt University, starting fall 2020.

I joined the lab of Dr. Eric Underbakke after completing my freshman year, where I fell in love with research. I also worked in the lab of Dr. Manuel Ascano at Vanderbilt through the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy Program during my senior year. While at Iowa State, I had the opportunity to apply to several research scholarships and awards and develop my teaching skills as a GEN 313L TA. Studying biochemistry and genetics at Iowa State has prepared me for a successful career in science.

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Open Access

Ten Simple Rules for landing on the right job after your PhD or postdoc

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences, Center for Transformative Disease Modeling, Tisch Cancer Institute, Icahn Institute for Data Science and Genomic Technology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York, United States of America

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  • Kuan-lin Huang


Published: April 2, 2020

  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007723
  • Reader Comments

Citation: Huang K-l (2020) Ten Simple Rules for landing on the right job after your PhD or postdoc. PLoS Comput Biol 16(4): e1007723. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007723

Editor: Scott Markel, Dassault Systemes BIOVIA, UNITED STATES

Copyright: © 2020 Kuan-lin Huang. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Freshly minted PhD and postdocs can often benefit from thorough guidance on career development and choosing the right job afterward. Several articles in the Ten Simple Rules series help you navigate this challenge, especially on selecting a postdoctoral position [ 1 ], considering a career in academia versus government [ 2 ], choosing between industry and academia [ 3 ], starting a company [ 4 ], and approaching a new job [ 5 ]. While these articles mostly include invaluable advice from senior leaders reflecting from decades of experience, I (having just gone through the process) wish to offer a complementary set of fresh-baked lessons.

During my PhD and a brief postdoc, I started a company, consulted part time, and participated in science-policy and teaching group activities. I then interviewed at the academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies before deciding on my current tenure-track position at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai at the end of 2018. I am fortunate to have obtained a wide range of experience and cultivated networks of people to learn from (albeit most are limited to the United States). Here, I distill the ten rules into three sections representing distinct phases of landing on the right job—exploration, decision, and fulfillment—with practical tips (companion video: https://youtu.be/O6HZJgqhxA4 ).


“Exploration is what you do when you don’t know what you’re doing . That’s what scientists do every day . ”–Neil deGrasse Tyson

Rule 1: Know your values, goals, and priorities

Start by knowing yourself better. Life is a continuous journey of exploring and attaining one’s purpose. What impact do you want to have on the world? Try Steven Covey’s funeral exercise [ 6 ]: Picture attending your own funeral; what would you want your family, friends, colleagues, and others to say about you and what you have done? From the other angle, adopt Jim Collin’s hedgehog concept [ 7 ] for a company for yourself: Find how you can best contribute from the intersect between (1) what you are deeply passionate about, (2) what you can be the best in the world at, and (3) what you can get paid for.

You can also achieve tangible answers by asking yourself specific questions. Are you more driven by autonomy or order? Fortune or fame? Knowledge or utility? How much do you value spending personal time outside of work for yourself and the family, creating new knowledge and exercising intellectual autonomy, or translating science into products that directly affect consumers’ life? The other question that many people find helpful is as follows: If you were to pick one or a hybrid of multiple people as a model for your career, who would that be? What did that person do at the early stage of their career to help them become who they are?

At a practical level, reflect on what activity attracts or deters you from your work so far. Scientific research is often a job with multiple dimensions. You can dissect which aspects you particularly enjoy and thrive at. For example, do you enjoy the days when you are coding away or conducting experiments, or do you enjoy the days when you are writing manuscripts or drafting grants? Do you enjoy reading papers and planning experiments, or do you enjoy seeing the translational impacts that your research may have on others’ lives? Do you enjoy constant personal interactions, or do you prefer moments of solitude? You may not have a dichotomized answer for each of these exploratory questions. But pay attention to your preference. You can make decisions to optimize for it.

Rule 2: Talk to everyone and see the possibilities

Your view of the possibilities constrains your choice. Expanding this view can help you identify the global maximum of reaching your potential. Being in the academic environment, many of you default to your PhD and postdoc advisors or other professors for career advice. While faculty may provide helpful thoughts for an academic career, we often possess limited insights on diverse “real-world” opportunities, considering that many of us have been at schools for our whole lives. Make sure you consult with the career center at your institution to explore your options; many now provide counselors with PhDs. Take every opportunity you have in networking events to talk with the majority of the PhDs who choose a nonacademic career path and learn about it. Listen, keep an open mind, and stay in touch. People are generally happy to share about their careers and willing to help those who are interested in following similar paths. And down the road, a referral—even from a weak tie—can get your first foot in the door in job applications.

Rule 3: Gather the data

As scientists, you show the data to validate hypotheses and inform decisions. It should come as second nature to apply this evidence-based approach to your career too. Read books and journal articles written by diverse professionals to learn about different fields and the emerging trends you may be excited about. Additional information is also increasingly available to help evaluate your options. For example, job sites like Glassdoor post employee reviews, salaries, and interview tips. These sources can help you gather useful information that is not common knowledge. For example, a critical managerial change may be documented in recent employee reviews. Cross-validating such reviews with what I hear from my personal network or during on-site interviews, I find that many of them provide reasonable honest opinions on hard-to-gauge, yet important, aspects like organizational cultures.

Rule 4: Conduct “mini-experiments” to try it out

One of the best ways to find out what you like is to do it. Many research institutions now have special-interest graduate and postdoc groups that enable you to try-out different careers. These groups can help you explore teaching, consulting, entrepreneurship, science policy, and other opportunities with varying levels of commitments. Not sure whether a consulting job suits you? Sign up for a quarterly consulting project. Have an itch for starting a company? Join a nearby incubator and explore start-up projects with like-minded individuals. You can also explore opportunities intersecting science and other fields through classes, seminars, and events at other schools such as the business school or the law school. Aside from the hands-on experience, these opportunities can help you expand your network and find advice from people of diverse professions.

Rule 5: Sympathize with your future self

Sympathy is an essential attribute of a socialized human being. When it comes to making career choices, using thought experiments to sympathize with your future self may reveal insights. For example, imagine you are a professional a few years or even decades further along on the path you chose. Would you be proud of what you have achieved? Are those choices aligned with your values? As another practical example, think about the day-to-day routine of each job that you have now learned from prior explorations. Imagine yourself going through a typical day. Do you enjoy how your time is allocated to different categories of activities, especially those that would preoccupy most of your days? For example, would you enjoy grant writing as a junior faculty? Market research as a consultant? Coding as a computational biologist? Stretch and compress your current allocations for similar tasks to the extent demanded by the future job, and you may be able to see and feel more clearly whether you will strive in it.

“Do nothing , and nothing happens . Life is about decisions . You either make them or they're made for you , but you can't avoid them . ”–Mhairi McFarlane

Rule 6: Evaluate the fit

Once you have gained a deeper understanding of yourself and the job, it is time to find whether the two align. Carefully examine the fit between your career goals, personality, and skillset and the organization’s mission, culture, and job requirements. Do your values align with the organization’s aims and goals? Carefully examine the organization’s mission statement and, sometimes more telling, its core economy-driving activity. For example, many internet technology companies derive values by optimizing advertisement views and clicks, which drives the economy (with the potential trade-off on consumer privacy and mental health). As another example, within the same industry, different pharmaceutical companies target different diseases, serve different populations, and deploy different pricing schemes. Your job is designed to advance the organization’s mission, which you will need to align to for long-term job fulfillment.

In evaluating personality fit, the unique challenges of the job often determine the organizational culture to a certain extent. For example, working in a large company likely requires you to execute excellence on your assigned task repeatedly. A job at a start-up probably involves a more dynamic role in which you will need to figure out the next challenges and solutions autonomously. A research-focused faculty job typically requires drafting of grant proposals relentlessly, especially in the early phase. Your role and the organization will evolve over time. Continue to evaluate, adjust, or—as needed—find a different fit.

Rule 7. Get along with the five people around you

While each person is unique, it is natural to become more like the five people around you. The importance of getting to know your potential future teammates cannot be over emphasized. Most on-site interviews will arrange for you to meet with your prospective supervisors and colleagues. Make sure you interview them while they interview you. Are they happy? Can you imagine getting along with them? Do you share the same aspirations and levels of ambition? Would you enjoy a good time with them during work lunch and happy hours? If you could not gather enough information during the interview, follow up and politely ask whether you can ask more questions in a call or email.

Rule 8: Plan out the dates for your transitions

Up until your PhD defense, all the start and end dates of school programs are set for you. You need to make the conscious switch that most future transition timings are jointly determined by you and the organization. A faculty job search can typically take a long duration with multiple on-site interviews. Industry and postdoc jobs tend to have faster turnarounds, and some may have strict deadlines for you to decide by. If your doctoral advisor holds conflicts in keeping you in the lab for longer, you may seek support from third-party faculty to determine if you have met the criteria of attaining a doctoral degree. If you are an international scholar, communicate early on with the international scholar office in your institution to make sure that your transition timing is aligned perfectly with your visas to avoid immigration issues. You need to take responsibility to align the dates for your unique circumstances.

Rule 9: Don’t forget: Location, location, location

Now you have considered the organization, team, and timing, one often under-emphasized factor is the location. A job comes with the location at which you will likely live for at least several years of your life. It is where you will build your network and thus have a higher likelihood of staying long term. Would you prefer the cost-effective and spacious living at suburban locations or the dynamic lifestyles and job-hopping opportunities in big cities? How about places with warm sunshine year-round versus those with defined seasons? If you are moving with your family, what do they prefer? Each location is unique. I highly recommend that you spend extra time during on-site interviews to gain a brief living experience.


“‘How does one become a butterfly ?’ she asked pensively . ‘You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar . ’”–Trina Paulus

Rule 10: Settle in, contribute, and keep learning

Transition is hard but also exciting. In the beginning, it is perfectly normal to be missing your previous lab and colleagues. Acknowledge that this is a natural process that most people go through and appreciate aspects of your new role and environment. There may also be times where you uncontrollably fantasize about the opportunities that you did not take. Identifying role models may provide some guiding lights—you can find plenty of accomplished individuals who stay with their grit and excel in one profession and just as many that switch tracks and contribute in multiple fields.

In the long term, finding meaning in your work is critical to a fulfilled life. Through knowing your values, goals, and priorities (Rule 1) and carefully evaluating the fit (Rule 6), you should be happily contributing to your and the organization’s shared mission with the right people in the right place (thanks to Rule 5, 7, 9). While the progress may have ups and downs, remember it took all your PhD and postdoc years to make a dent in expanding human knowledge. Given the right alignment, what you do every day shall accumulate to a substantial impact. Remember that landing on the job is part of a journey, not an end. You can always apply these rules to assess your situation and change courses.

Finally, as a scientist, you know that there is always plenty more to learn. Endowed with the knowledge and determination of a PhD, you are in a great position to contribute. But remember to maintain your gift of curiosity. Seek opportunities to grow. Continue to solve new challenges that are important to you and society. After all, a fulfilling career is not unlike a PhD—you ask an important question, experiment to solve it, and pursue the next one.

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  • 6. Covey SR. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Simon and Schuster; 1989.
  • 7. Collins JC. Good to Great. HarperBusiness; 2001.
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Tress Academic

Next career step

#101: Preparing for a career after your PhD or Postdoc (with Tina Persson)

October 19, 2021 by Tress Academic

With a PhD or a Postdoc in your bag, you’ve got many options for your career: You can stay on the academic path, or look for a job in the private or public sector. Many PhD candidates and Postdocs find it hard to make up their mind and identify what their next career step should be. And even once that’s decided, there are a few things you should know about the job hunting game inside and outside of academia. We asked career advisor and leadership coach Tina Persson (PhD) for her advice for the transition period — especially when looking for a job in the industry. She has shared candid tips, personal experiences from her own career, and why it’s good to trust yourself in this process. 

Many of you who are working on a PhD or in a Postdoc position dream about a lucrative and rewarding career to finally make all the struggles and hardships worthwhile. While some think about staying in academia because it’s a well-known environment and they love to do research, others are attracted by professions in the public or private sector. 

From numerous discussions with PhD candidates and Postdocs, I know that for many of you, it’s a struggle to find the right career and in general, make the transition from PhD or Postdoc into a career. It’s never easy!

While I know a great deal about getting an academic career and help applicants to land a permanent academic position —I’m aware that  not everyone completing a PhD will later work in permanent positions at a higher education institution. So looking for outsider expertise is needed to find out what other career options you’ve got. 

For this reason, I’ve invited a specialist regarding the transition from academia to industry: Our colleague and good friend, Tina Persson is an expert when it comes to young academics heading for a job in the private sector. She has a PhD from Lunch University in Sweden, and did her Postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen, Germany. She’s the founder of Passage2Pro , a consultancy providing career advice to folks like you. She’s also working as a leadership coach, and she created the podcast PhD Carrier Stories , which I find super entertaining and very informative.

Let’s get started with the interview with Tina: 

Bärbel:  Welcome, Tina, thank you for taking the time to talk to me and giving insights into what young researchers, PhD candidates, and Postdocs would need to do to get a smooth career start. Before we dive right into this interesting question, let us briefly talk about your experiences as a PhD candidate in Lund, Sweden, and as a Postdoc at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany. What do you remember from that time? What are the memories that stick out?

Tina:  What I remember is that I had a lot of fun, and I was working with great people. We had parties and we spent much of our spare time together. I worked very hard in the lab, but I was never really worried that I was not going to get the PhD degree. I always had a mindset of: I’ll sort it out somehow, I will manage! So I remember mostly the happy days. I might have forgotten all the struggles. So what I tell every young researcher today is: Enjoy it! 

Bärbel: That is very encouraging to hear! 

Don’t panic when feeling uncertain about your career!

Bärbel: When I talk to PhD candidates and Postdocs about their career aspirations, they are often uncertain. If I have a group of 20 young researchers, there’s probably one who says upfront “I want to be a professor”, and two or three know they want a job in the industry. The rest are really unsure on what they want to do when their contract ends, and that makes them worry a lot. Is this also your experience? And what advice would you give them?

Tina: My first tip—and this is really the $10 million tip—is: Don’t panic! You will sort it out! 

Many researchers—and people in general—panic in such situations. I think, somehow, that society or the research environment has put so much pressure on people. So they think they are not allowed to say: “You know what? I’m not really sure what I want to do as a next career step. But it’s okay, I will figure it out!” My advice: Ignore the people who put pressure on you. If you get remarks like “Oh my God, you have done a PhD, and you still don’t know what you want in your career?” ignore them!

It is okay to not know. You have to be in that situation for a while in order to figure out what you really want. So tell them “Yes I don’t know, but isn’t that fantastic? Because I have so many doors to open up now. I have so many opportunities!” So lean back, not knowing is normal. If you don’t take the time to figure out what you want, you’ll easily enter one job after the other, and you are never really happy and satisfied.

I have written about this in my book “The PhD Career Coaching Guide.” You can download that chapter for free . It’s about resilience.

So, my first advice is: A normal transition from academia to industry needs about three months to a year, and it’s a learning process. It’s a process about you identifying what you like and don’t like.

Figure out what you want! 

Bärbel:  This is good to know: It will take time to figure it out, and you have to allow yourself to take the time, right? And it’ll probably not be the easiest period in your life, but what you say, Tina, is: Trust yourself. You’ll find out what suits you best! 

Let’s assume I am a PhD candidate or a Postdoc, and I really have no clue what I will do as a next career step. What would you suggest I do? How can I make up my mind? Could you give a few further hints about what would help our early-career researchers to take the first step and figure out which career they want?  

Tina: First, start thinking about what you actually like. Do I like to travel, and does that have to be part of my job? Do I want to be part of a team, or do I like to work on my own? As I mentioned at the start, I liked my PhD because there was a lot of partying going on. I loved that. Maybe that is because I like to be social, I like being among fun people. That is important to me. 

Second, reflect on the experiences in your PhD and Postdoc years. That can tell you a lot. Did you like working in the lab for yourself? Or were you happier when you could meet and connect with other people? Did you like managing your research or projects? Maybe it is more administration and finance you are interested in? Or are you super creative and you enjoyed writing or coming up with new ideas? 

If I can take myself as an example: From my background and knowledge, I could be a medical writer. But I would be deadly bored in that job after two weeks because I don’t like to write. So start to identify those things. 

Bärbel: So it’s really important to start reflecting on what you like and what you don’t like, right?

Tina: Yes. And then the next thing that you might think about is location. 

Find out where in the world you want to do which job!

Tina: With a PhD or Postdoc behind you, you’ll enter a global job market. But if you kept it entirely open, that would mean you are very unfocused in your job search. So try to narrow down your location preference.

Are you living in the United States and you’re going to stay in the United States? Well fine, then dig down further. I have clients who tell me they want to stay in Europe. “Great,” I say, “that’s 44 different countries—where do you want to go?” And, if you pick one, let’s say it’s France, then there are further practical issues as well. How well do you speak the language, or will you get a work permit there? Do you want to live in a big or small city? How is it with your family? Are you going to bring your family with you?

I have often experienced that people managed to identify their preferences and their dream job, but then they start searching in the wrong region. They looked for their dream job in a certain region in Sweden where I’m living. It’s just that the kind of companies they were looking for don’t exist in that region. So it’s a waste of time. You’ve got to look for the right job at the right place. 

At that stage, you need a more coherent strategy—one that brings it all together. In my coaching, that’s part of my hidden job strategy, because that is a strategy to learn. And when you start to organise these things, then it gets much easier to figure out in what direction you should look.

Bärbel: Let me just sum up what you said: Start with your preferences, what you like, and then think about the part of the world you’d like to live in and see if the jobs you are looking for are available there. So it’s literally like you pick a few elements at the beginning that are really, really important to you, and then you build it up until the picture of what you want is clear, right?

Tina:  Yes. And when you have figured it out and you know—“I’ll go to Berlin, I’m going to work with data science”—this is the point where coaching could come in. This is where I would suggest to an applicant: “Why don’t you start to connect with people who work as data scientists in Berlin? They can mentor you.” Now, you’re ready to have a mentor. So many researchers, I think, do it the other way around. They don’t know what they want, and tend to ask for advice from mentors. And then, they have too many mentors. But they still can’t figure it out.

Bärbel: I think that’s an important point. You say a coach or mentor is helpful in the job search, but it’s you who has to figure out what you want, that is your task. This is the question you have to answer, and of course, consider your family, or your partner. But you can’t just follow all the advice of parents, teachers, mentors, supervisors, everyone around you. At the end of the day, you can’t escape confronting yourself and figuring out what you want. I think that’s important to emphasise.

phd or postdoc

Send 100 applications to get one job offer

Bärbel:  Let’s focus a bit on the application process itself now. Let’s assume, someone has figured out what they want and they are ready to send out job applications. In my experience, PhDs and Postdocs are often hesitant when it comes to sending out their first job applications. They ultimately underestimate the number of applications they have to send to be successful.

I occasionally hear of candidates who are lucky and score a job after sending just 1-2 job applications. But these are exceptions. What are your thoughts? How many applications does one have to send to receive the first invitation to an interview? 

Tina:  If you get a job with the first application you sent, that is sheer luck! I call that luck! That’s the jackpot, but how high is the chance that you’ll get that? Slim, right?

So I would say, apply for 20 jobs and see what happens. And then we can talk! This is also what I tell my clients. And it might not be so comfortable to hear this, but it’s almost like you have to get rejected at the beginning of your job search. That is part of the journey. It will hurt, but it’s the only way you’ll get better. 

And if you have been rejected for all 20 jobs, then something might be wrong with your CV or with your strategy. Then you have to take a step back and check-in with yourself one more time.

After those first rejections, get rest, get feedback, and improve. At that point, a career coach can really help because they can independently look at your application and give advice on how to move forward.

Bärbel:  I’ll have to jump in here, Tina, 20 applications—that will probably be a surprising number for our audience. 

Tina:  My statistics, Bärbel, are the following: For the corporate job search, if you send 100 applications, you get invited to ten interviews, and you get one job. What’s your experience?

Bärbel:  Well, in most scientific fields you’d scramble to get 100 applications together, though the amount of job openings varies in the different scientific fields and depends on the career stage as well. 

But I share your experience that you need to send many applications: I call it the job-seeking pyramid—it’s very broad at the bottom when you start out, and narrows in towards the top at the end. I tell my job-candidates: You’ll probably read 200 job advertisements, you’ll send 30-40 applications, you’ll end up with two or three invitations to interviews, and you’ll get one offer for an academic position in the end.

Tina:  We are really reconfirming each other’s experiences here. So both from the corporate side and from the academic field, you just have to broaden your scope at the very beginning and do a lot of groundwork to actually harvest a few interviews and secure a good job in the end.

And here’s the next remark my clients usually make: 100 applications? But there are not that many open jobs in my field? So, to put that in perspective, this number—for the corporate side—includes unsolicited applications, networking applications, and hidden jobs that are not advertised. And then you can very well come up to 100 applications. You send applications strategically to key people at the companies you want to work for. 

And I think that many, many PhDs and Postdocs underestimate this networking strategy and the importance of communication.

Get better with every rejection you get

Bärbel : These are great insights that you share, Tina. I just want to come back to something you said a bit earlier. You need some rejections in your job-search, because this is what makes you a better applicant next time. You said the best way to learn this is by having your own—sometimes negative—experiences, right?

Tina: Yes, absolutely, it’s like you need to get through the first rejections. And if I put it that way, even though both career coaches and advisors can support you, the best training you get is your own life.

Bärbel:  I often find it hard to communicate this to my job applicants. To make them aware of how much they can learn and how much more professional they get with every single interview they attend. I have observed that many times: The first interview of a candidate is crap. Then they move on, and after a few nasty experiences, they learn to enjoy the interview process. Then after doing four, five interviews, bang! They nail it and get an offer. 

Don’t say ‘yes’ to every job—trust your feelings! 

Tina:  I’ve got to share a story from a friend of mine who is very experienced in the job market. She called me and said, “I’ve just been through the most funny interview in my life. After the first 5 minutes, I heard myself—as a candidate—saying You know what, thank you for inviting me. But this job is not for me! ” Then she asked me, “Tina, what do you think, was that good or bad?”

Well, I told her, this is how interviewing goes. It’s not only the company looking at you, it’s also about how you think and feel about working for them. If you realise in an interview that you don’t like the company, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and admit that this is not the place for you. 

Bärbel: I can totally relate to that. When I was searching for staff positions at European universities, I had an interview and the moment I set foot into that Department I knew I didn’t want to work there. There was something that put me off immediately. I don’t know, it was the entire atmosphere, the smell, the carpet, the colour of the doors, whatever. 

If there is something that puts you off during the interview, be honest with yourself. An interview really is testing both sides. But sometimes, of course, as an applicant, you’re so eager to land a job that you’re afraid to admit this. You think you have to say yes, just to get a job. 

Tina:  You think you have to say yes, but, please don’t. I share the same experience: I can tell you when I was afraid to be unemployed, I said ‘yes’ to do a job that my stomach said ‘no’ to. I said ‘yes’ because I was scared. And that was a mistake. One year later, I was unemployed again. 

So my advice for everyone in the job search: Listen a little bit to what your feelings are saying. When you go for the interview, how do you feel about it?

Bärbel:  I think that’s super good advice: Listen to your little inner voice. Is it saying “Yeah, super chance, I’ll jump on it?” Or does your flight instinct set in and you’d rather never come back to the place of your interview.

Celebrate every interview! 

Tina:  Again, this is interviewing: it’s not only about the company looking at me, it’s also about my feelings. Do I want to work for them? But when you are under pressure because your contract ends soon or has ended already, you experience turning down a position as a failure—you see it as if you have failed. Instead of saying: “Wow, I was invited for an interview! I’m gonna celebrate and learn as much as I can in this process.” That is the mindset that you should have as an applicant. 

Bärbel:  Fabulous. I couldn’t agree more: Securing an interview is a major success along the path to getting a job.

Prepare early for the job hunt!

Bärbel: Now let’s assume a candidate has made up their mind on what job to look for. And they are in the final months of their PhD or Postdoc contract, and want to get ready for the job market. What is the bread & butter, so to speak—the essentials of being ready for the job market? What should one prepare?

Tina:  When you have a few months left in your PhD or Postdoc, that’s when you should start sending applications, definitely. But let me be clear: I think you should start earlier, but with different activities. So in your last year, let’s say, maybe listen to the PhD career stories podcast , maybe go to career fairs, check-in with a career advisor, read books about career planning, and figure out your strategy a little bit.

The final months, that’s the time when you should actually start to nail down your résumé. So you have some kind of general résumé that is not tailored to any job. In the end, you should have a one-page application and a two-page application, that you can adapt for different jobs.

Bärbel: One second, I know this is confusing for many applicants: There’s one clear difference between applications for corporate jobs and for academic jobs. For the industry résumé, you prepare a short 1-2 page summary of your experiences and expertise (see this podcast episode Why companies ignore your Resume ). Whereas the academic CV gives a full record of your experiences and achievements, and is therefore much more comprehensive and longer (for advice on setting up an academic CV, see blogpost no. 31: Six smart strategies for a strong Academic CV and no. 33: Why a great academic CV is a work-in-progress! )

Tina:  Oh yes, clearly. I think my academic CV was about 60 pages long—research agenda, teaching portfolio, publications, all included. So be aware of which sector you are applying to. 

And then you should make sure to have a LinkedIn profile. And start connecting with people. This is also the moment when you need to get in touch with people in your network that might be helpful. Get out there and spread the word that you are looking for a job, and send out applications. 

Don’t be afraid to decline an offer

Bärbel:  That brings me to another observation: Researchers often seem to think that everything has to be kept top secret and if they apply, then maybe this or that person might hear about it and that will negatively affect them in the future. So they often hesitate to send out more applications, and instead wait for that one special opening to go up one day. 

Tina:  Sounds familiar: Does it affect my chances in the future if this committee has rejected me or if that institute knows I am looking for a job? No, I say! Don’t be afraid of that, really. Just start out, even if it’s not 100% what you are looking for! Gain experiences and learn from them.

And then you may worry, “But what if I get that job?” Well, that’s good! Then you can make a decision. Just because they offer you a job doesn’t mean you have to take it.

Or you think: “But what if I get two jobs, three jobs?” Well, that’s great I say! Now, you have a choice. 

What’s the worst thing that can happen? You may have to decline an offer. And that’s not the end of the world, you know.

Bärbel: I’ve got to repeat it because I think this is such great advice: You can get a job offer, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it.

Make a decision and be happy with it!

Tina: When you get an offer, you always have a choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Certainly, you have to check the details of the offer and first of all, get the contract and see what exactly is written there. And then take your time and make a decision. And Bärbel, I know, there are candidates who are afraid to say ‘no’, because they are afraid they will regret it, and then they call me as their coach for advice. 

And I have to tell them: “This is your choice. Now it’s time for you to sit down and look inside. What is the plus side to this job, and what are the negative aspects? Then you evaluate it. And then you make a decision.” That’s it, don’t look back. Once you make a decision, be happy with it. And when you wake up the next day, it’s a new morning. Don’t look back.

Bärbel:  That’s so good to hear from you, and it might take away a bit of the pressure: No one knows whether a decision you make now is the best choice ten years down the line. But on the day you make that decision, it is the best choice. Otherwise, you wouldn’t make it. That’s it. Once more, it is about being confident and trusting your abilities. 

Tina:  Absolutely! I mean, you made it through your PhD. You made it through a first or second Postdoc. You will make it through the next career step. This is the strength of being a PhD. You have that toughness and persistence, and these are super critical and very positive abilities in the job search. You are a trained scientist, wonderful! 

Bärbel:  Thank you Tina for all the great advice you provided here. I think we managed very well to outline the overall strategy of the job hunt after completing your PhD or even after the Postdoc years. Good luck to you guys out there! Now it’s up to you to start with the first step! 

About Tina Persson:  

Tina Persson (PhD), Career Coach

Tina is a career and leadership coach, author, and entrepreneur whose creativity, confidence, and tenacity have earned her a reputation as a dynamic leader. She is also a public speaker, facilitating seminars and workshops to PhD professionals and early researchers alike, supporting them in their career development. As a businesswoman, she is founder of Passage2pro AB and Aptahem AB (a biotech start-up company), is featured in over 20 scientific publications, is the inventor of 2 scientific patents, and is the host of the PhD Career Stories podcast. 

After spending nearly two decades in academia, Tina decided to enter the staffing industry, where she gained eight years of expertise working as a Recruiter and Talent Sourcer. Combining her multifaceted experience, she is adept at empowering researchers to pave their way to a smooth transition from the academic world to a fulfilling career beyond academia.

Relevant resources:

  • Passage2Pro
  • Persson, T. 2020. The PhD Career Coaching Guide. Passage2Pro AB.
  • Podcast “PhD Career Stories”
  • Blog post 18: CV-makeover: revamp the design of yours
  • Blog post #31: Six smart strategies for a strong Academic CV
  • Blog post #33: Why a great academic CV is a work-in-progress!
  • Blog post 77: When should I start searching for my next job?
  • Blog post #93: The top 5 reasons to have a LinkedIn profile as a scientist

More information:

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  • 02 April 2024

Africa’s postdoc workforce is on the rise — but at what cost?

  • Linda Nordling 0

Linda Nordling is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Conceptual illustration depicts African postdocs climbing

Illustration: Fabrizio Lenci

Nature’s postdoc survey

This article is the fourth in a short series discussing the results of Nature ’s 2023 postdoc survey. The first article looked at the state of postdocs in 2023 and the reasons for a generally brighter outlook on job prospects. A second article covered how postdocs are using artificial-intelligence (AI) chatbots in their everyday work. The third looked at the career experiences of postdocs in their thirties . The survey, created with Shift Learning, an education-research company in London, was advertised on nature.com, in Springer Nature digital products and through e-mail campaigns. The full survey data sets are available at go.nature.com/3rizweg .

Lire en français sur Nature Africa

Johnblack Kabukye struggles to explain to his colleagues back home in Uganda why he’s doing a two-year stint as a postdoctoral researcher in Sweden. “If you say you’re doing a master’s or a PhD, it’s clear what that means,” says the digital-health specialist, who worked as a physician for a decade before switching to research. But a postdoc? “It’s not a thing that is understood,” he says.

The skills he’s learning at Stockholm University while building electronic health tools tailored to patients’ needs are certainly useful for his job as a physician and informatician at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) in Kampala. But the postdoc format itself — a short-term position designed to bridge the gap between doctoral student and tenured academic — makes little sense in Uganda, where it is common to have a permanent teaching job at a university before even embarking on a PhD.

“I have not heard of a single postdoc opportunity in Uganda,” Kabukye says.

phd or postdoc

Career resources for African scientists

That could soon change across Africa. The number of people gaining PhDs in the continent is growing, and so is the need for postdoctoral employment. “There is definitely greater awareness of the postdoc position, and more and more postdocs,” says Gordon Awandare, pro-vice-chancellor in charge of academic and student affairs at the University of Ghana in Accra.

But as the continent’s postdoctoral employment needs have grown, so too have fears that the problems created by a proliferation of postdoc positions in other parts of the world — which critics say trap young researchers in a cycle of poorly paid, short-term positions with no job security — could also arise in African countries.

Breaking ground

Postdoc frustration is a recurring theme in studies that look at early-career researchers. Two global surveys of postdoctoral students by Nature , one published in 2020 and the other last year , found that more than one-third of respondents were dissatisfied with their lot. A lack of job security, career-advancement opportunities and funding were the most-cited reasons.

Nature ’s surveys underscore the dearth of postdoctoral researchers in Africa. Of the 3,838 postdocs surveyed in June last year, only 91 were based on the continent. The number of respondents (who were self-selecting) were too few, and too geographically concentrated in three countries — South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt — to be viewed as representative of the continent. Yet, they offer tantalizing glimpses of an emerging segment of the global research workforce.

For example, African postdocs were older than the global average, with more than 40% aged 41 or older. They were also more likely to be doing their postdoc in their home country (68% in Africa compared with 39% globally) and they were much less likely, than the global average, to be employed on fixed-term fellowships or contracts (see ‘Employment matters’). Their pay also stands out: 60% said they earned less than US$15,000 per year — the lowest option survey-takers could tick, and a fraction of what most postdocs are paid in Europe and North America. Lower costs of living play some part in the lower salaries, but not enough to justify the gap (see ‘A continental shift’).

A CONTINENTAL SHIFT. Graphic compares age and pay of African postdocs – results taken from 2023 Nature survey.

Postdocs in Africa were also more likely to report having a second job alongside their postdoc than were other respondents, on average (33% of respondents in Africa, compared with 10% of respondents overall). The most common reason was to provide extra income (71%), while 57% said their second job gave their skills and career prospects a boost. However, notes Awandare, the tendency of many African postdocs to have permanent academic positions before becoming a postdoc could be a confounding factor in this measure.

Yet, and perhaps surprising given their low pay, Africa-based postdocs were the most optimistic about their futures of all respondents from the geographical regions represented. Overall, 64% of Africa-based respondents reported that they felt positive about their future job prospects, compared with 41% globally. Postdocs in Africa were twice as likely to say that their postdoc roles were better than they imagined (25% compared with 12% overall). And 42% of respondents in Africa felt that they had better prospects than previous generations of postdocs, far exceeding the 15% global average.

EMPLOYMENT MATTERS. Graphic shows results taken from 2023 Nature postdoc survey.

That optimism makes sense to Awandare, who thinks that postdocs in his country might feel more important than do their peers who work in large laboratories overseas. In addition to his leadership role at the University of Ghana, he founded and runs the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens at the university. He says postdocs at the centre are treated the same as faculty members. “In some advanced institutions, they wouldn’t get that recognition and status,” he notes.

And even though their salaries are low by international standards, postdocs at his centre can be better paid than entry-level permanent university staff who only teach, he says. This is because postdocs tend to be paid out of lucrative international grants. “Ten to fifteen years ago, many of these positions would have been overseas — but now funders, to their credit, increasingly provide positions on the continent,” he says.

A different set-up

Employment structures also differed between Africa and the rest of the world, according to Nature ’s survey. Although similar proportions of postdocs were employed in academia in Africa as they were globally (around 90%), the proportion of part-time postdocs was higher in Africa — 12% compared with the global average of 5%. One of them is Felista Mwingira, a parasitologist at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. She exemplifies how African early-career researchers have been forging ahead in their research careers in the absence of a formal structure of postdoc positions.

Mwingira obtained her PhD in 2014 from the University of Basel in Switzerland at the age of 33 — which she says is very young for researchers in Tanzania. By the time she started her studies, she was already permanently employed by her university in Tanzania, and was able to return to that post after finishing her PhD. Back home, she could take three months paid maternity leave for each of her two children, born four years apart. And although juggling pregnancies and bringing up children with the demands of an academic career was a challenge, it meant she had job security — something postdocs at the same stage in their lives in other parts of the world often lack .

phd or postdoc

Falling behind: postdocs in their thirties tire of putting life on hold

Mwingira’s work after her PhD was not technically a postdoc. But as her children got older, she sought out a mentorship arrangement at her university that provides her with research training and, sometimes, extra money from the projects she works on. It’s not a formal postdoc, but she hopes it will help her to attain the publication ‘points’ required in the Tanzanian university system to progress up the academic career ladder — something that does not depend on more-senior positions becoming available. She hopes to be promoted in the near future, but says she would also like to embark on a full-time postdoc position to “sharpen my scientific skills”.

So far, Mwingira considers herself lucky. Her children are now four and eight, and while she says that her life as an early-career academic still has ups and downs, she is thankful for the stability she has enjoyed so far in her career. “I think that I’m better off compared to postdocs in high-income countries.”

That feeling of being better off than people elsewhere certainly does not translate to sub-Saharan Africa’s most prominent research nation: South Africa. There, postdoc numbers have been rising for a couple of decades, growing from around 300 in 1999 to nearly 3,000 in 2019 (ref. 1 ), and national surveys reveal postdoc frustrations that mirror those raised globally, with some country-specific gripes to boot.

Heidi Prozesky is a research scholar at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology at Stellenbosch University. She is one of the people behind South Africa’s first PhD tracer study , published in its final form in July 2023, which tracked the whereabouts of nearly 6,500 PhDs who had graduated in the country between 2010 and 2019. That survey found that around 20% had accepted at least one postdoctoral fellowship, either at home or abroad, on completing their PhDs, with a steady growth seen over the two decades. The postdocs spent a median of three years in the position, although one-quarter reported spending more than four years. One-third reported having accepted more than one postdoc — often, they said, because other work was not available.

phd or postdoc

Career resources for postdoctoral researchers

A common refrain in the South African survey, which echoes the findings of Nature ’s global surveys, is that postdocs feel like they are in limbo: neither students nor staff. In reality, postdocs in South Africa are technically students. This saves them from paying tax on their income, which are stipends, not salaries. But this designation also breeds resentment, because it means postdocs are treated like students: they can’t apply for grants and typically have no funding to travel to conferences or attend workshops.

In addition to the lack of opportunities, postdoc pay in South Africa is low compared with living costs. Last year, the National Research Foundation’s non-taxable postdoc stipends started at 200,000 rand (US$10,700). Female postdocs are allowed up to four months paid maternity leave. However, basic private medical insurance does not come as standard, meaning that postdocs have to pay for it out of their stipends if they want to avoid state health care, which many people in South Africa view as woefully inadequate. The stories of some postdocs “would make you cry”, says Palesa Mothapo, who heads research support and management at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. “These people have PhDs. And they end up going hungry.”

Growing pains

South Africa’s predicament stems partly from bottlenecks in the academic careers system. The number of people with a PhD graduating annually more than tripled between 2000 and 2018, increasing the demand for postdoctoral work. Postdoc positions have also increased, but further up the career ladder, the number of roles has been static. A study published this year 1 in the South African Journal of Science found that the number of postdoc positions grew ten times faster between 2007 and 2019 in the country than did the growth in entry-level permanent jobs in academia.

Portrait of Palesa Mothapo looking at ants in an Eppendorf tube

Palesa Mothapo at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, says there needs to be more discussion around transferable skills for African postdocs. Credit: Stefan Els

But many also view South Africa’s postdoc malaise as a consequence of incentive structures in the country that place a premium on research publications. Postdocs have become cheap, low-commitment hires for universities that want to boost their output of research publications, which in South Africa earn the host institutions or departments cash subsidies from the government. Postdocs often have publication targets written into their appointments, Mothapo says. “But those papers don’t translate to money for the postdoc. It goes to the institution, to the host.”

There is some cause for cheer. Last December, the National Research Foundation announced it would raise its minimum annual postdoc stipend to 320,000 rand per year for new fellowships from 2024. But simply increasing postdoc stipends is unlikely to create more academic positions for postdocs who are looking for more job security. And the bottleneck seems to be worse for some groups. According to Prozesky, South Africa attracts a lot of postdocs from the rest of the African continent. Most come with the expectation that it will lead to a permanent job. The PhD tracer study found that many people from the rest of Africa end up disillusioned and feeling discriminated against. They struggle to move on from the postdoc status, and can face long delays in visa approvals when moving between posts. “They call it academic xenophobia,” says Prozesky.

Charles Teta, a Zimbabwean environmental chemist who did two postdocs in South Africa after a PhD in his home country, says that he noticed that South African citizens were less likely to take the postdoc route than were immigrants like him. “South Africans are more likely to get lectureship posts,” without having any postdoc experience, he says. In addition, a growing number of funding streams are not open to non-citizens — even those who are permanent residents. Eventually, those restrictions cause people to leave, he says.

Teta left South Africa last year to cover the maternity leave of an environmental-science lecturer at Queen Mary University of London. There, he enjoys the opportunity to teach — something he wasn’t expected to do during his postdocs. It’s been a happy choice so far, and he hopes to find another, similar position when his current one ends. He doesn’t miss the research treadmill, which, he says, “did not translate to mental and financial well-being”.

A call for creativity

Mothapo says that the rigid focus on research in South African postdoc roles is part of their problem. “The universities are not creative,” she says. Because postdocs are limited in how they can teach, and can’t apply for their own funding, she notes, they are missing out on learning skills that are beneficial for staying in academia, and that could open up alternative career paths in industry.

More-creative programmes have been trialled across the continent. Since 2019, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington and the African Academy of Sciences have been running the African Postdoctoral Training Initiative (APTI). The programme combines a two-year postdoc at a NIH institute in the United States with a two-year research grant that fellows can take back home to build their own research programmes. Notably, it is open only to researchers who have permanent positions already.

phd or postdoc

Postdoc career optimism rebounds after COVID in global Nature survey

Daniel Amoako-Sakyi, an immunologist at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana, embarked on an APTI fellowship in late 2023. He is a postdoc in mid-life, and the fellowship has proved to be a good fit. He is a few months into his position at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, where he will spend the next two years looking at biological reasons for the variance in efficacy seen in new malaria vaccines. His 15-year-old daughter has enrolled in a US high school, and his spouse, a fellow academic, aims to split her time between the United States and Nigeria.

In Bethesda, Amoako-Sakyi has none of the resource constraints that limit him in Ghana. Antibodies that would take months to ship to his home country arrive on his doorstep overnight. He expects the opportunity will supercharge his career, and hopes he’ll be able to take on some postdocs of his own when he returns home. He doesn’t expect it will be difficult to find them. “I think most researchers are looking for the right environment to flourish,” he says.

What comes next?

There are few certainties about the future of African postdocs. Those who spoke to Nature hope that their postdoc training will accelerate their careers — by helping them to win grants, get promotions and expand their research networks. In Uganda, Kabukye hopes to have organized funding and collaborators by the end of his postdoc so that he can carry on his research designing and implementing digital-health tools in resource-constrained settings. “Ideally, I would have positions at the UCI and at another university, to foster collaboration and exchange,” he says.

Portrait of Johnblack Kabukye

Physician Johnblack Kabukye from Uganda is doing a postdoc building electronic health tools at Stockholm University in Sweden. Credit: Johnblack Kabukye

However, with most of the continent’s research funding still coming from sources outside Africa — with the exception of a handful of countries, such as South Africa and Egypt — it’s likely that foreign funding will keep driving the creation of postdoc opportunities. And that can mean the positions aren’t always tailored to local needs.

Mothapo says that she often hears research funders talk about the need to create more postdoc positions. However, there is not enough discussion around the particular needs that African postdocs will have, especially the transferable skills that they will need if they want to transition to sectors such as industry. “I’m worried about their destinations,” she says.

Mwingira echoes her concern. She thinks that more formalized postdocs in Tanzania could lead to bottlenecks in the training system, as has been seen in South Africa and elsewhere. “Those problems will arise in Tanzania, too, but worse, because of the low salaries,” she says.

But Amoako-Sakyi does not think that the creation of more African postdocs has to result in frustration as they compete for rare academic posts. Many might already be employed by universities at that point in their careers. A postdoc could allow them to win grants from funders so that they can set up their own research groups and create opportunities for the next generation. He also thinks that the biotechnology industry in countries such as Ghana will grow, further increasing the demand for researchers in the country.

Nor does Amoako-Sakyi think that African postdocs need to end up in the same negative landscape that postdocs occupy elsewhere in the world. Such fears are not unfounded, he says, because concepts are often brought to the continent and adopted without thinking about the local context. But as his own fellowship shows, there are ways to tailor postdocs to African settings. “We should be very intentional about how we do it and try to correct old mistakes.”

Nature 628 , 673-676 (2024)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00980-2

Prozesky, H. & van Schalkwyk, F. S . Afr. J. Sci. 120 , 15898 (2024).

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Baylor College of Medicine is a health sciences university located in Houston, TX. The college is known for medical excellence and has affiliations with eight teaching hospitals in the Texas Medical Center. With over $400 million in research support annually, Baylor College of Medicine has more than 90 research and patient-care centers and units. The college trains over 3,000 students in various medical and healthcare disciplines, including residents and post-doctoral fellows.

Role Description

A full-time on-site role for a Postdoctoral Researcher is immediately available in Dr. Loning Fu’s laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. The research projects will be focused on studying the role of circadian dysfunction in non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD) and NAFLD-induced liver carcinogenesis and the role of circadian homeostasis in anti-cancer therapy (PMID: 12724733, PMCID: PMC2881876, PMCID: PMC4558341, PMCID: PMC5695235, PMID: 37890720). The successful candidate will be responsible for conducting research and analyzing data using laboratory skills described below, mentoring junior lab members, and participating in manuscript preparation and conference presentation. The role will involve working closely with other researchers and faculty members in the pursuit of medical and scientific advancements.


  • Laboratory skills and research experience in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Animal Model Studies, Endocrinology, Signal Transduction, Cancer, and Biostatistics.
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  • Prior first author publications in peer-reviewed journals.

How to apply:

Please submit one PDF format of application with a cover letter, an updated resume, contact information of minimal three references, and copies of previous publications in PDF format.

To: [email protected]

  • Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Scholar Idea

Education, Scholarships and Research

Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden invites application for vacant (56) Academic, PhD and Postdoc Scholarships

phd or postdoc

Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden invites application for vacant Academic, PhD and Postdoc Scholarships, a Swedish university located in Gothenburg, Sweden.

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Updated with memorial fund information: Biomedical Engineering Chair Joseph Izatt Dies

Joseph Izatt, the Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Engineering and chair of Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), passed away on Sunday, April 7. 

Since joining Duke in 2001, Izatt served the university through dedicated service to his students and colleagues, and as a pioneering researcher. During his tenure as chair of Duke BME, he championed the successes of all within the community and worked with faculty, staff and students to ensure the department supported their goals. 

In a message Monday to the Duke Engineering community, Pratt School Dean Jerome Lynch celebrated Izatt’s career and leadership. “He was an exceptionally thoughtful leader who weighed every decision with a care that originated with his deep love for the BME community. The integrity and humility he brought as a school leader will be missed.” 

Biomedical engineering chair Joseph Izatt

Izatt was a skilled researcher and inventor who played a foundational role in the development of optical coherence tomography (OCT). The non-invasive medical imaging technique uses optical interferometry to peer through layers of soft tissue, such as the retina at the back of the eye, to provide richly detailed images that guide diagnosis and treatment decisions. 

Izatt’s decades-long interdisciplinary collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Toth, a medical doctor and Duke professor of ophthalmology, helped bring this research directly to patients. Their work to improve the accuracy of examination and surgery of the eye led to handheld OCT systems for infants and the first intraoperative OCT-guided system for surgery. 

Izatt advised and collaborated with talented students and staff in his Biophotonics Group to advance OCT technology. Together, they developed new methods to improve non-invasive medical diagnostics, in vivo tomographic microscopy, and real-time image-guided robotic surgery. The lab’s expertise in OCT technology has also allowed them to expand their reach beyond the realm of biomedical imaging to other endeavors, such as investigating how OCT could help autonomous robots and vehicles to see better. 

In recognition of these impressive scientific contributions, Izatt was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). 

Beyond his research, Izatt was recognized as a kind and dedicated mentor and leader within Duke Engineering. He received the Pratt School’s Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising in 2008 and the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring in 2017. He also helped shape the direction of the wider university, serving as chair for both the Pratt 2039 organizational visioning exercise and the Search Committee for Duke’s Vice President for Research and Innovation. 

Izatt took up the mantle as chair of Duke BME in 2022. In this role, he helped support the department’s trajectory of success by recruiting outstanding new research and teaching faculty. He also worked with the BME Strategic Visioning Committee to ensure that the department continues to educate ethical, well-rounded engineers who can guide and transform the future of the biomedical engineering field. 

This is a significant loss for the academic community Izatt championed, and the impact of his legacy will be felt for years to come. 

“The loss of Professor Izatt leaves us and the Pratt community with a profound sense of sorrow as his dedication to his family, students, faculty and staff were the hallmarks of who he was as a person,” said Dean Lynch. “I am especially saddened to have lost a school leader who proudly led with his heart and who cared so deeply for the members of the BME and Pratt community.” 

In recognition of Professor Izatt's impact and legacy, in lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to the Dr. Joseph Izatt Memorial Fund. Donations can be made at Duke's giving portal. Visit  https://gifts.duke.edu  and click "Or choose an area" at the bottom of the screen. On the next screen, click "Still can't find your designation of choice?" which will reveal a box that states "Which area of Duke would you like to support?" In this text field, please type "Dr Joseph Izatt Memorial Fund" to ensure your gift is appropriately directed.

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Seminars by Young Neuroscience Community Scholars (SYNCS): Thomas Elston, PhD

April 19, 2024

3:30 pm / 5:00 pm

Decoding Decision-Making in the Primate Prefrontal Cortex:

A Network Perspective

Thomas Elston, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Neuroscience Institute, UC Berkeley

Contact – SYNCS – [email protected]

RESOLVED: Network Outage

At 6:00am this morning, an electrical failure in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) caused a network outage for Buildings 1, 2, and FXB.  This affected both wired and wireless networks.  As of 8:00am the networks are back up and IT is checking to be sure all network systems are back to normal.  Please contact the IT Help Desk if you are still experiencing any network problems.

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  1. Developing a Successful Research Career: Postdoc or Not?

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  2. How to Apply PhD PostDoc using ResearchGate

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  3. Should I do a Postdoc after PhD?

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  4. Science: How to find the right place for your PhD or Postdoc

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  5. Lessons Learned: Making the Most of a Postdoc

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  6. Lessons Learned: My Path from PhD to Postdoc to Tenure Track

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  1. Is PhD End

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  4. Do you Really need a Postdoc?

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  6. MS, PhD, PostDoc Scholarships Germany !! The Helmholtz Association Germany !! Almost 300 Awards


  1. mathematics

    The first and foremost difference between the two is that a PhD is "awarded" after defending a thesis (plus additional duties depending on the department). On the other hand, a PostDoc is a temporary working position that is assigned by some institution, whose completion does not require any defence. What people do or do not do, researchwise ...

  2. How to find the right place for your Ph.D. or postdoc

    Advertisement. There is a lot at stake when choosing where to do your postdoc or Ph.D. Choosing a lab that is excellent scientifically should allow you to do excellent research, publish in excellent journals, and network with other excellent researchers. At the same time, doing research is a very intense personal experience that involves ...

  3. PhD Vs. PostDoc

    Well, we're here to help you make sense of it all in plain and easy-to-understand language. In this article, iLovePhD breaks down the differences between a PhD and a Postdoc. Think of it as two significant steps in your academic journey. We've put together a table with 20 points to tell you everything you need to know.

  4. Postdoctoral researcher

    A postdoctoral fellow, postdoctoral researcher, or simply postdoc, is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their doctoral studies (typically a PhD).Postdocs most commonly, but not always, have a temporary academic appointment, sometimes in preparation for an academic faculty position. According to data from the US National Science Foundation, the number of ...

  5. Postdocs: The Definitive Guide

    A postdoc is only one of many paths you can take after having completed your PhD. A postdoc (also referred to as a postdoc or postdoctoral) can be best thought as a temporary position designed to refine your research and teaching skills while undertaking practical research work. Because of this, most regard a postdoc position as a temporary ...

  6. What is a Postdoc?

    A postdoc is a temporary position that allows a PhD to continue their training as a researcher and gain skills and experience that will prepare them for their academic career. Most postdoc positions are at a university or in industry, but there some postdocs positions at nonprofits and in government. While the vast majority of postdocs work in ...

  7. What is a PostDoc?

    A postdoctoral fellowship, or 'PostDoc' position, is fixed-term research post for PhD graduates. This is normally a bridge between completing a PhD and pursuing a career in academia, but you can also do a PostDoc to gain further skills and training for other careers. This page explains how PostDocs work, what they offer and how to apply.

  8. Transitioning fields between a Ph.D. and postdoc

    Brown notes that it is becoming more common for early career scientists to switch subjects between the Ph.D. and postdoc, as "it's an opportunity to jump into something that is new and fresh and exciting," he says. And having the capacity to connect seemingly disparate fields can hold other advantages. Indeed, Fazi, who recently leveraged his ...

  9. Becoming a Postdoctoral Researcher

    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 ...

  10. Guide to Postdoctoral Research

    A postdoctoral fellowship, or " postdoc ," is a period of training and research that some students pursue after completing a PhD or doctorate. It can provide many benefits, including the opportunity to further improve research skills while building your network. The program you choose will depend on your skills and your professional field.

  11. How to get what you need from your Ph.D. or postdoc supervisor

    How to get what you need from your Ph.D. or postdoc supervisor. For Ph.D. candidates and postdocs, the relationship with your supervisor can make or break a career. The onus for a positive and nurturing relationship should fall largely on the senior member. At the same time, supervisors are often overstretched and have their own priorities ...

  12. Ten Simple Rules for landing on the right job after your PhD or postdoc

    During my PhD and a brief postdoc, I started a company, consulted part time, and participated in science-policy and teaching group activities. I then interviewed at the academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies before deciding on my current tenure-track position at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai at the end of 2018.

  13. Postdoctoral Scholars in US Institutions

    Since the 1960s, the performance of research in the United States has relied more and more on graduate scientists and engineers who have recently earned a PhD or equivalent doctorate and are pursuing further education and training in their field or learning a new specialty. These postdoctoral scholars, or postdocs, work on a full-time but temporary basis for one or more years to gain ...

  14. Infographic: 15 Career paths for PhDs and postdocs

    Infographic: 15 Career paths for PhDs and postdocs. Passionate about scholarly publishing, always looking to have memorable conversations with researchers and industry professionals across the globe. One of the most common problems PhD students and postdocs face is that of deciding which career path they should choose after their research is ...

  15. PhDs & Postdocs: Explore

    Leverage Your Network. To explore pathways and to learn about how your interests, skills, and values align with a diverse array of careers, we encourage you to activate your network, including Stanford's robust network of PhD and postdoc alums.. Stanford Alumni Mentoring (SAM) is a platform that allows you to reach out to Stanford alums for career conversations.

  16. Self-Diagnosing Your PhD or Postdoc: Assess for Success

    The position (PhD or postdoc) can be broken down into 3 main areas: 1. Your Environment, 2. Your Advisor, and 3. Your Project. In addition, to being able to know currently how it is going, identifying, understanding each area of your position (PhD or postdoc) will empower you

  17. What to Do After PhD?

    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.

  18. Planning a postdoc before moving to industry? Think again

    Here's another thing to keep in mind. The next job you take is unlikely to be the dream job, especially if you're a postdoc who's been dreaming of becoming a professor or PI within academia ...

  19. PhD or PostDoc

    PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or Post DocThe terminal degree in science is the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). It requires coursework and a significant body of publishable research including a dissertation. Most programs begin with a year of courses exploring primary literature (rather than textbooks) during which time students may also rotate through several research labs. In other programs ...

  20. Ten Simple Rules for landing on the right job after your PhD or postdoc

    During my PhD and a brief postdoc, I started a company, consulted part time, and participated in science-policy and teaching group activities. I then interviewed at the academia, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies before deciding on my current tenure-track position at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai at the end of 2018.

  21. Preparing for a career after your PhD or Postdoc

    October 19, 2021 by Tress Academic. With a PhD or a Postdoc in your bag, you've got many options for your career: You can stay on the academic path, or look for a job in the private or public sector. Many PhD candidates and Postdocs find it hard to make up their mind and identify what their next career step should be.

  22. Advice for those who obtain a Ph.D. or postdoc in midlife (opinion)

    A Ph.D. After 40. Lauren Easterling offers advice for successful job searches after obtaining your doctorate or completing a postdoc in midlife. When I started by Ph.D. program, I was 31 years old. I was a little bit older than some of the other students in my cohort but planned on finishing in five years and then applying for tenure-track ...

  23. Africa's postdoc workforce is on the rise

    In addition to the lack of opportunities, postdoc pay in South Africa is low compared with living costs. Last year, the National Research Foundation's non-taxable postdoc stipends started at ...

  24. Postdoc fellow

    The college trains over 3,000 students in various medical and healthcare disciplines, including residents and post-doctoral fellows. Role Description. A full-time on-site role for a Postdoctoral Researcher is immediately available in Dr. Loning Fu's laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. The research projects will be focused on studying ...

  25. Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden invites application for

    Postdoc position in Electrochemical Doping of Conjugated Polymers: 30/04/2024: PhD student position in Formal Verification of Autonomous Cyber-Physical Systems: 30/04/2024: PhD Position: Metallic materials for green hydrogen production: 30/04/2024: Postdoc position in Energy and the SDGs in LDCs - interdisciplinary approaches: 30/04/2024

  26. Updated with memorial fund information: Biomedical Engineering Chair

    Pratt School of Engineering. Joseph Izatt, the Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Engineering and chair of Duke's Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), passed away on Sunday, April 7. Since joining Duke in 2001, Izatt served the university through dedicated service to his students and colleagues, and as a pioneering researcher.

  27. Seminars by Young Neuroscience Community Scholars (SYNCS): Thomas

    UCLA GPB Box 951722, 300 Geffen Hall Los Angeles, CA 90095-1722. [email protected] (310) 206-1845

  28. RESOLVED: Network Outage

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