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.
Jump down to
- To postdoc or not to postdoc?
- Finding (or creating) a suitable postdoc opportunity
- Getting the most out of your postdoc experience
- Financial considerations
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:
- Pathways to Science: STEM Resources for Post Docs: a searchable database of postdoc opportunities
- Earthworks online classified ads for geoscience research and technical jobs
- Login to AGU online to see the classified ads from Eos, which often include some postdoc opportunities. (You have to be a member of AGU to get access; you can become a student member for $7 (2011 price). Alternatively, borrow a paper copy of Eos from a friend.)
- Classified ads on the Advancing the Science of Limnology and Oceanography website. This job board includes advertisements for faculty, graduate student, post-doc, and non-academic positions.
- USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowships Program
- National Academies Research Associateship Program awards fellowships to selected individuals who want to work at any of these labs.
- The National Laboratories
- Teaching Postdoctoral Fellowship Clearing House: postdoctoral fellowships that focus on teaching, rather than research
Getting the most out of your postdoc experience
The following resources can help you to make the most of your postdoc.
- Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies, published by the National Academies Press (2000).
- Moving Toward Autonomy in a Postdoc, an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, offers advice for making your postdoc experience a positive one for both you and your advisor.
- Postdoc Survival Skills, another article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, is a list of tips for anyone considering or beginning a postdoc, based on the author's experiences.
- Doctors Without Orders (Acrobat (PDF) 1.7MB Aug21 06) is a written summary of the results of a nationwide survey of postdoctoral fellows, conducted by Sigma Xi. They found that postdoc satisfaction most strongly correlates with clear expectations. That is, the most satisfied (and successful) postdocs knew what was expected of them, knew what they could expect from their advisors, and had regularly scheduled performance evaluations.
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.