Getting the most out of your postdoctoral experience
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Getting the Most Out of Your Postdoctoral Experience. Kathleen Flint, PhD Stony Brook University 1 st Annual National Postdoc Appreciation Day September 24, 2009. National Postdoc Appreciation Day. National Postdoc Assoc’s First ever Postdoc Appreciation Day ! Thanks for making it great!

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Getting the Most Out of Your Postdoctoral Experience

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Getting the most out of your postdoctoral experience

Getting the Most Out of Your Postdoctoral Experience

Kathleen Flint, PhD

Stony Brook University

1st Annual National Postdoc Appreciation Day

September 24, 2009

National postdoc appreciation day

National Postdoc Appreciation Day

  • National Postdoc Assoc’s First everPostdoc Appreciation Day! Thanks for making it great!

  • Over 70 institutions in 27 states, plus Canada and Australia, participating

  • NPA hopes this is the first of many!

National postdoctoral association

National Postdoctoral Association

  • What is the NPA? A non-profit, member-driven professional organization providing a national voice for postdoctoral scholars.

  • Mission: To advance the U.S. research enterprise by maximizing the effectiveness of the research community and enhancing the quality of the postdoctoral experience for all participants.

  • Activities: National Advocacy, Resource Development, Community Building

Npa advance


  • Project to foster the transition of women postdocs into the professoriate

    • Adapt and disseminate promising institutional practices for retaining these women in pipeline

  • Supported by National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program

National trends training

National Trends: Training

  • Increasing view of postdoc as a training position

    • NIH and NSF postdoc definition (2007)

      “An individual who has received a doctoral degree (or equivalent) and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.”

National trends mentoring

National Trends: Mentoring

  • Increasing importance of mentoring of postdocs

    • NIH Clarification (2007): Mentoring can be included in grant effort reporting

      • Where mentoring is “not readily separable” from other research activities

    • New NSF mentoring provision (2009)

      • America COMPETES Act: Jan 5, 2009, NSF grants must include a mentoring plan for all funded postdocs

      • Effective 4/6/09: Submit mentoring plan as one-page supplement

National trends ethics

National Trends: Ethics

  • Increasing focus on RCR training for postdocs

    • New NSF RCR Training Requirement (2009)

      • America COMPETES Act: NSF grantee institutions must have a plan for training all funded students and postdocs in RCR

      • Effective 10/1/09: Institution must be prepared to certify they have a plan in place

National trends internationals

National Trends: Internationals

  • Recognition of the importance of international scholars to the U.S. S&T workforce

    • National Academies Gathering Storm Report (2007)

      • Highlights importance of international scholars to the U.S. research enterprise

    • 60-70% of postdocs in U.S. are international

National trends institutions

National Trends: Institutions

Recent trends at the institutional level:

  • Rise of PDOs and PDAs -- Doubled since 2003

  • Establishment of postdoctoral training programs

  • More defined postdoc policies

  • Policies affecting postdocs become more data-driven

    • Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey: structured oversight  productive postdocs

What should you get out of your postdoc

What Should You Get Out of Your Postdoc?

  • Additional experience and training

  • New techniques or new discipline

  • Time to focus on research without other commitments

  • An expanded network

    But, most importantly:

  • The next job!

    Optimize your postdoc experience to get that job

Postdocs and the job market

Postdocs and the Job Market

  • The scientific job market has changed dramatically over time

    • Recent PhDs Employed at Academic Institutions:

      • 1973: 74% Full-Time Faculty vs. 13% Postdocs

      • 2006: 38% Full-Time Faculty vs. 45% Postdocs

  • More recent PhDs do at least one postdoc:

    • Graduates in <1972 vs. 2006:

      • All Science & Engineering: 31%  46%

      • Life Science: 46%  60%

      • Physical Science: 41%  61%

        New faculty hires typically have more years of experience, more publications

Postdocs and the job market1

Postdocs and the Job Market

  • After the postdoc, most work in education

    • 49% in Education, 41% Business/Industry, 9% Government (2006)

  • Two-thirds of postdocs expect to pursue a faculty career

    • ~30% of postdocs actually get tenure-track faculty jobs

      Prepare for Plan A, but also Plans B, C…

The job market in 2009

The Job Market in 2009

  • Extensive hiring freezes

    • Many faculty openings canceled

    • Many current postdocs in holding pattern

    • More new PhDs choosing postdocs

  • Recession + ARRA Funds = Lots of postdoc positions available now!

  • Just be aware: Lots of other postdocs on the market right now, and in the next few years!

    Think about how you can distinguish yourself

Other job market trends

Other Job Market Trends

  • Rising overseas competition makes S&T workforce in U.S. very valuable

  • Mixed Message: Lack of scientists? or Overproduction of PhDs?

    Thinking flexibly about your career can take advantage of these opportunities!

Getting that next job

Getting that next job

  • GOAL = Get the next job!

  • What should you do to get that job?

    • Do great research

    • Publish great papers

    • Attend great conferences

  • What else can you do?

Get the most out of your postdoc

Get the Most Out of Your Postdoc

What else should you do?

  • Make a Career Plan

    • Where do you want to go?

    • What do you need to get there?

  • Assess & enhance your skills

    • Traditional research skills, plus others

  • Build your portfolio

    • Including research and other accomplishments

    • Tailor to your career goal

Career planning

Career Planning

  • What is your career goal?

  • Do you have the skills and accomplishments to get there?

  • Even if headed for academia, what is your “Plan B”?

     Develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Individual development plan idp

Individual Development Plan (IDP)

  • Identifies professional development needs and career objectives

  • Helps set milestones and ways to achieve them

  • Facilitates communication with advisor

  • Can be useful in developing a “Plan B”

  • FASEB IDP Template:

Idp how to

IDP How-To

  • Steps for Postdocs:

    • Self-Assessment

    • Survey career opportunities

    • Write plan to match skills and strengths with career choices

    • Implement your plan, revise as necessary

  • Steps for Mentors:

    • Become familiar with available opportunities

    • Discuss opportunities with postdoc

    • Review IDP and help revise

    • Establish regular review of progress and help revise the IDP as needed

Assess and enhance your skills

Assess and Enhance Your Skills

  • Identify your transferable skills

    Transferable Skills Make You Flexible!

    • Scientific knowledge

    • Technical skills

    • Problem-solving and critical-thinking skills

    • Oral & written communication skills

  • Participate in performance evaluations

    • Use your supervisor as a resource for personal development as well as career advice

    • Seemingly painful, but a very good idea!


Self assessment core competencies

Self-Assessment: Core Competencies

NPA’s Postdoc Core Competencies

  • Purpose: To provide guidelines for postdocs and mentors to assess success in completing the steps needed for scientific career fulfillment

  • Based on life-long learning model

  • Not intended to be prescriptive or limiting – should be individualized

  • Download a self-assessment checklist at:

  • Consider also asking for peer review

Getting the most out of your postdoctoral experience

Scientific Knowledge


Communication Skills

Competencies Needed for Career Success in the 21st Century

Management and Leadership Skills

Responsible Conduct of Research

Research Skill Development

Getting the most out of your postdoctoral experience

Build your portfolio

Build Your Portfolio

  • Identify resources for building your skills & portfolio

    • Talk to your supervisor:

      • Conferences to attend?

      • Collaborators with which to network?

      • Outside labs or institutions to spend time in residence?

      • Working groups, journal reviewing, or other professional development opportunities for you?

      • Grants to help write?

    • Teach a course somewhere?

      • Good way to build teaching portfolio

    • Get involved with the NPA

      • Build leadership, communication, teamwork skills

      • Expand network

Build your portfolio1

Build Your Portfolio

  • Take Advantage of Other Local Resources

    • Attend workshops/courses for grads & junior faculty

      • Resume/CV writing?

      • Interview skills?

      • Grant writing?

      • Lab management?

    • Programs at nearby institutions/organizations

      • What Can You Be with a PhD? Career symposia at NYU on Nov 13-14

Other resources

Other Resources

  • Programs at your professional society meetings

    • Career workshops? Networking receptions?

  • Consult career resources like, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Scientist, Nature Jobs

    • Science Careers Free Webinar, “Job Searching for Scientists: Tools, Tips, and Essentials,” Sept 30

  • Broaden your network

    • Talk to friends, past employers/advisors, classmates, scientists you meet at meetings, fellow alumni, etc.

    • Do some informational interviewing

Take home message

Take Home Message

  • Plan Your Career in Advance

    • Tailor your postdoc experience to meet your long-term goals

    • Make a Plan A, but also a Plan B

    • Start an IDP today!

  • S&T Workforce is Valuable

    • Think flexibly about your career

Thank you

Thank You!

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