Advice for PhD students considering a Postdoctoral career

Calling on the Young Scientist community - would anyone like to share their top tips or recent experiences relating to the transition from PhD studies to life as a postdoctoral researcher with PhD students of the Biomaterials community?

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Some background about me: I’m a postdoc at a public university in the U.S., got my Ph.D. in 2018 and started my postdoc shortly after defending my thesis. I’m not interested in pursuing an academic research career, but I hope that this advice is useful no matter where you ultimately want to end up.

Use the postdoc to develop as many new skills as you can manage. This could be a field of science that you haven’t done but are interested in exploring (I got my Ph.D. in polymer chemistry and now spend much of my days doing bacteriology work), or some other aspect of being a researcher (grant or manuscript writing, peer review, helping to write a chapter of a book, etc.). At the end of the day, your postdoc is about your personal growth as a scientist/engineer/researcher, and this time in your career is valuable.

• This applies for graduate school as well, but compatibility with your PI is crucial. As a postdoc, you’ll likely be the most senior member of your lab aside from them, and they’re going to rely on you for a lot. As a result, having open, honest communication with them is going to be key to your success, along with the success of the research group as a whole. If you can’t give honest feedback about your work or the state of the lab, that group might not be a good fit for you.

Be prepared to act as a sounding board for junior members of the lab (graduate students, undergraduates, research assistants, etc.). Sometimes they might feel more comfortable coming to you before going to the PI if they’re having a problem. You need to be ready to listen and support them as best you can.

• You might not have as much guidance as you want from mentors or someone in a senior position when experiments don’t work out and you aren’t really sure about future directions. This can be a frustrating and isolating experience. When this kind of thing happens, try to be as upfront about your struggles as much as possible. You never know when someone might give you some good advice or point you in a direction that you hadn’t thought of.

Don’t neglect your social networks, both at and outside work. This is especially true if you’ve moved to a new city, state, or even country for your postdoc. Even if it’s just grabbing coffee and having a chat in the morning with a friend, it can be a great boost to your mental health.

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Hi Dylan,

Thanks for sharing your great tips and recent experiences relating to moving from PhD student life to the world of a postdoctoral researcher.

Look forward to hearing views and advice from others.

Best wishes,

Nicholas