Advice from a postdoc who wishes to remain anonymous
PSW: When did you start making moves towards a post-doc (i.e. talking with potential mentors, looking up grant funding, etc.)?
DocSci: I visited a few labs about a year before graduating, to get the sense of what these groups are working on and whether there was mutual interest. This is actually very useful: aside from meeting people in the field and having a chance to present your work in a setup that is much more relaxed and close-up than a conference, you get to experience the culture of the lab which to me was very important.
PSW: Did you receive funding from a mentor, grant organization, or the university? If one of the second 2, who were you funded by?
DS: I was funded by my mentors, and then by the university.
PSW: Did you have in mind multiple places when you considered a post-doc?
DS: There were two places I was interested in, but my dilemma was resolved by the fact that only one of them offered me funding, and the other one presented a logistic difficulty (of bringing a dog into the country). But I ended up doing a postdoc in both places, since the second place had funding a year later and the logistic problems have been resolved (long story! But in a nutshell pet-import rules have changed).
PSW: How has your family life influenced your post-doc position?
DS: My partner and I had to live away from each other for a few years. I was lucky to have had mentors who were supportive and understanding so I could travel a lot, and I even ended up working long-distance for a few months so that I could live with my partner. There was one point when my partner got a great postdoc position, so I joined a lab at the same university as a visiting scholar — it turned out well because shortly after that I had a baby and having that position gave me a lot of flexibility: I was affiliated with a lab so had access to resources that I needed for my work, but I wasn’t committed to a schedule or a specific work plan. Of course it helped that I already knew I have a postdoc position lined up for a year later.
PSW: What skills or experiences are you looking to gain from your post-doc?
DS: Mostly being more of an independent researcher, setting my own projects, and gaining some teaching experience.
PSW: How did your experiences in graduate school help you gain skills for your post-doc? What do you wish you had known or done before becoming a post-doc?
DS: I had a great grad school experience — my adviser was enthusiastic about research, and I learned from him how to ask the right questions, how to approach them, how to write papers, and to think critically. What I wish I had done more before my postdoc is apply for funding, and a lot, even just to gain the experience.
PSW: How long (ideally) do you plan on being a post-doc? What are your ultimate career goals?
DS: Ultimately I would like to be a PI. Ideally, I would be a postdoc for 5-6 years. It’s a great stage to be in, but I guess you don’t want it to be too long.
PSW: Any other thoughts on being a post-doc or advice to current graduate students on the way to postdoc-ing?
DS: It’s very convenient to have funding from an adviser’s grant, and you can put your time into doing research instead of writing applications, but if you manage to get your own fellowship it can have a big impact later on. So it’s worth doing even if it’s not absolutely necessary.