Friday, September 18, 2009

A post-doc was still a good idea...

I wasn't meaning to "fish" last post, I was just trying to keep the post on track. Here's the sidetrack.

As I was considering what to do after I got my Ph.D. I actually started the application for an opening at a PUI while I was ABD. I talked to my advisor about it who, in retrospect, was only good at advising (careerwise) along the same path he took. So he advised me not to apply to the PUI right after graduation, but to take a research post-doc to "keep all my options open". He basically said that if I took the teaching job after graduation, I would be forever "stuck" in the teaching job or lower. Of course, at that time, I resented the idea of the teaching being a "lower" calling than being a "real" scientist. But I took his advice and bailed out of the application process and started looking for a research post-doc. I'm actually glad I did, and not for the reasons he advised me. This applies to me, and is not meant to be general advice...OK maybe a little.

I'm glad I spent time in a research post doc before taking a job at a PUI because:

1. I ended up competing with post-doctorally trained scientists for this slot.
2. I learned a technique in my post-doc that undergrads can do (and my institution can afford). The research I was doing in grad school was much harder to learn and the equipment more expensive. For example, are you getting your Ph.D. using fMRI? Fuh-geddabout a job at a PUI.
3. I needed more practice writing grants.
4. I learned a more about a slightly different subject. This makes me broader, and when you are teaching introductory courses, the more broadly trained you are the better.
5. I needed more in depth and broader knowledge to make me independent in my lab. Here I am the ONLY ONE in my subject matter. I cannot go down the hall and ask a colleague for help troubleshooting.
6. I loved living overseas and working in a different scientific culture. The science was done a bit differently there, and that gives me more scientific tools. In addition, the cross-cultural experience helps me understand people better, and that helps me be a better teacher (and better human for that matter).
7. I got to know a whole new set of research scientists with whom I can collaborate. My network is much bigger now.
8. My current institution was very interested in my international experience. This probably doesn't apply to all PUIs.
9. I spent time as a post-doc mentoring the undergrads in my lab (in a foreign language sometimes). That was important in my application.
10. My boyfriend became my husband because of it. And he had GREAT post-doc while we were there.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I'm about to embark on an academic post-doc with the intent of pursuing a career in research. Of course, there's no guarantee I'll get to do a career in research, and I also really love teaching so a PUI position is a viable option for me as well. I got my BS at a PUI and loved every minute of it. It's so nice to hear a voice from someone who's making a career of it.

  2. Thanks. I will say, however, that you should try to moonlight or adjunct or pick up SOME type of teaching experience concommitantly to shorten your path and to truly keep all your options open. There ARE "teaching postdocs", which are becoming more popular. I have a n=1 of a colleague who had a bad experience with one. I wouldn't advise anything based on that, though.

  3. Good advice. I will certainly look into it. There's a good chance that I will be taking a post-doc position at a research-focused but also undergrad-serving university. I suspect that I could teach a bit if I asked for that opportunity, at least once I get a fellowship and I'm off the PI's dime.

    What means this "teaching post-doc"? I've never heard of such a thing. Also, if you don't mind me asking what made your colleague decide to take the position and why did it go badly?