Dr. Ben Parker, PBEE, advised by Dr. Nicole Gerardo
Current postdoc at the University of Oxford, UK
PSW: When did you begin making moves towards a post-doc position (i.e. talking with potential mentors, researching grant funding, etc.)?
BP: Sometime during my 4th year.
PSW: Did you receive funding from a mentor, grant organization, or the university? If one of the second 2, who were you funded by?
BP: My postdoc is funded by the NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. There are several government postdoctoral fellowship programs in addition to NSF — USDA NIFA, NIH NRSA. There are also ways for US citizens to do postdocs in foreign countries – a Marie Currie fellowship to work in Europe, a Royal Society Newton fellowship to work in the UK, one for Japan I think.
PSW: When determining a mentor, was it someone you already knew personally through a colleague or a conference, or did you cold call/e-mail someone?
PSW: Did you have in mind multiple places when you considered a post-doc or did you know from the beginning one school or mentor that you wanted to work with?
BP: No, but I certainly would have pursued multiple options if my current position hadn’t worked out. I’d suggest pursuing multiple leads from the start.
PSW: How far in advance did you apply for funding? What was the timeline as far as defending, applying for funding, and moving/beginning a postdoc?
BP: The NSF application is due in November, or sometime in the late fall. They let you know the following spring. I defended at the end of that summer. But jobs funded off of someone else’s grant, e.g. from evodir or ecolog, would have a shorter timeline.
PSW: What made you choose the school that you did? What skills or experiences are you looking to gain from your post-doc?
BP: I wanted to work on different questions in the same study system. This lab provided an opportunity to do that. I think the school isn’t as important as the lab for doing a postdoc.
PSW: How did your experiences in PBEE help you gain skills for your post-doc? What do you wish you had known or done before becoming a post-doc?
BP: The PBEE training grant was great because I was able to go to a lot of conferences, which helped shape my ideas for a postdoc grant. The program also does a nice job of inviting good seminar speakers, who might be interested in hiring postdocs, and then pushing students to meet with them. But really it was my advisor who encouraged me to start thinking about postdocs early in graduate school, helped me write my proposal, etc.
PSW: How long (ideally) do you plan on being a post-doc? What are your ultimate career goals?
BP: Hrm, this is the most stressful question you can ask a postdoc. People do postdocs anywhere from 1 to >6 years before getting a faculty job or finding work outside of academia. Personally, I like being a postdoc, I’m getting lots of research done, generating new ideas, making more money than as a graduate student, etc. But it is also quite stressful not to have a permanent job, and to potentially have to move around every few years to do multiple postdocs.
PSW: Any other thoughts on being a post-doc or advice to current graduate students on the way to postdoc-ing?
BP: We like to joke that POSTDOC is really an acronym for “Putting Off Solidifying The Decision On Careers” – which is just to say that sometimes people do a postdoc after graduate school just because they’re not sure what else to do. But I think academia is starting to realize that the PhD is a valuable degree for a lot of careers, and that a tenure track job is not the only successful route in science. We should be exposing graduate students to the other kinds of ways they can contribute to science and the other types of careers that will be satisfying to a newly minted PhD, in addition to helping them find a postdoc.