From Grad Student to Postdoc

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The fine art of choosing the next stepping-stone in your career.
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There are many options for you to consider when selecting a postdoctoral fellowship. Image from:

By: Tyler Saumur, ORT Times Writer

A postdoctoral fellow (postdoc) can be defined as “An individual who has received a doctoral degree and is engaged in a temporary, defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path1.”

For PhD students, a question commonly asked as they complete their degree is “do you have a postdoc lined up after you graduate?” While this is a daunting question for any grad student, it is good to start thinking about your options for a postdoctoral fellowship as early as 18 months before completing your PhD. This will enable you to secure both a position and funding to support this next chapter suggests Dr. Olinda Habib Perez, a postdoc in Dr. Kristin Musselman’s lab at KITE. For Dr. Amanda Ali, a postdoc in Dr. Kapoor’s lab at the Krembil Research Institute, contacting multiple principal investigators and knowing what your aspirations are is imperative. She states, “It is important to consider whether principal investigators are able to support your career goals and ensure there are opportunities for you to develop leadership skills.” When interviewing with multiple investigators, Dr. Habib Perez also stresses the importance of transparency and letting potential advisors know if you are interviewing with someone else, especially if they are in a similar research area.

Lab size is also an important consideration for aspiring postdocs. While small labs can grant you greater access to the principal investigator, larger labs may provide greater collaboration opportunities and publications. For Dr. Andrew Huntley, a postdoc in Dr. Avril Mansfield’s lab at KITE, it was important to balance his priorities when selecting the location for his postdoc. He states, “For me, gaining a new skill-set, working with a new population and working in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment were all important factors that I considered when seeking out a postdoc.”

Like any job, salary is something that should also be discussed, and if it is important to you, it should be something brought up early in the process. Once you have your offer letter, you can start the negotiations, but you need to advocate for yourself and do your research beforehand.

Postdoctoral fellowships should provide a stepping-stone to the next chapter in your career. And like a book, to get to the next chapter, you have to read. All postdocs consulted emphasized the importance of going into an interview prepared. You should be familiar with the research being conducted in the prospective principal investigator’s lab, come with a list of questions and recommend ways that you can contribute to their lab activities. The interview should be reciprocal: you should be interviewing the principal investigator as much as they are interviewing you.


  1. NSF: The National Science Foundation. “Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide: Part I - Proposal Preparation & Submission Guidelines (GPG).” Effective June 1, 2007. NSF 07-140.