Teach the Earth > Career Prep > Moving Your Research Forward > Postdoctoral Fellowships

Postdoctoral Fellowships

Auguste Rodin's "The Thinker," on the campus of Columbia University in New York. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Taking on a postdoctoral fellowship before beginning a career in academia is becoming more common. Is it the right choice for you? And if so, how do you go about finding a suitable postdoc position, and getting the most out of your experience? For a wealth of articles on these topics and more, see PhDs.org's page on postdoctoral fellowships. You may also find the resources below helpful.

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To postdoc or not to postdoc?

A postdoctoral research fellowship can give you additional research experience on a topic related to (but different from) your Ph.D. dissertation. It generally comes with no teaching responsibilities, but lower pay than a faculty position. A postdoctoral teaching fellowship can give you additional teaching experience or a mix of teaching and research responsibilities, but also usually comes with lower pay than a faculty position.
  • Doing Post-Doctoral Work: Should I? is a brief article by Brett Pelham, a psychologist. Read it to learn more about the potential advantages and disadvantages of having a postdoc position.
  • The Institute for Broadening Participation has a collection of profiles of postdocs in STEM disciplines.

Finding (or creating) a suitable postdoc opportunity

Postdoctoral positions are not typically advertised in the same ways that other academic positions are, so looking for a postdoc is not quite like other academic job searches.

How to look for opportunities:

  • The Right Fit is an article by Jeffery Perkel with tips for finding the right post-doc for you, including factors to consider beyond finding the right research program.
  • Obtaining a Postdoctoral Position (PowerPoint 49kB Aug22 06) is a presentation by Judy Garner, of the Center for Excellence in Teaching at the University of Southern California. It describes different types of postdoc positions, how to choose an advisor, when to start looking, sources of funding, and more.
  • Begging for a Postdoc is the first of a series of four articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education, detailing the postdoc search process of a Ph.D. candidate in biology at a research university. Read part 2 * part 3 * part 4.

Where to look for opportunities:

Getting the most out of your postdoc experience

The following resources can help you to make the most of your postdoc.

Financial considerations

Many postdoctoral fellowships pay participants using IRS Form 1099 (miscellaneous income). There are some issues to be aware of before you accept such a position:

  • You have to pay estimated taxes. If you don't, or if your payments are insufficient, you will be charged a penalty.
  • You don't pay Social Security or Medicare on your earnings; assuming that Social Security and Medicare are still extant when you retire, this will impact your benefits.
  • Your status of being "self-employed" may come into question. While most fellowships claim that you are not self-employed, the IRS sometimes challenges this claim. Read The Taxman Cometh Not for one scientist's account of being informed by the IRS that she owed back taxes on her "self-employment" income (and her successful fight to convince them otherwise).
  • You may not get any benefits. Benefits you do get are counted as earned income and are therefore taxed.
  • You may have to negotiate for things like sick days, vacation time and parental leave. In some cases, you will be required to make up any time off.
  • Getting a mortgage can be challenging; in the bank's viewpoint, you don't have a "regular" source of income.

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