Career advancement for postdocs – five tips

by Juliane

As postdocs we are always striving to advance our careers, foremost through performing brilliant research in the laboratory or in silico and publication of said brilliant research. Unfortunately being great in the lab is simply not enough to successfully transition to a faculty position. Here are some ideas that could help postdocs acquire the skills necessary.

1.     Write a review

Ask your PI if he is planning to write a review and suggest that you help him write the article. If he is not planning to, suggest a topic, ask for his feedback, write the review and submit it with your PI (after he has corrected it).

What do you win? Another publication for your CV together with in depth knowledge of the current literature

2.     Peer-review manuscripts

A lot of postdocs already help their PIs peer-review manuscripts, but the editors of the journals will often only see the PIs name, since she is the official reviewer. Ask your PI if you can review a manuscript under your own name. She might have to email the editor and suggest you as an expert in the field, but once editors know you, they might continue to use you as a referee.

What do you win? At least one editor will know your name and that you have experience reviewing papers

3.     Be social

Maybe your department, corridor, floor or lab uses a common lunch room, where everybody has lunch at approximately the same time. Join them! Have conversations with different people every day or with the whole group. If your department, floor, or a multi-lab group has any form of social gatherings, go! It could be a happy hour or a monthly bowling night. If nothing like it exists suggest it once or twice, maybe it becomes a regular occurrence!  Even though it might be much nicer to go home and not spend time with people that you have just spent all day with, this is a great opportunity to meet peers in a more relaxed environment and maybe hear some gossip about positions in other institutes.

What do you win? Networking skills, a peer network and a nice evening out

4.     Serve on boards/committees

To get the full benefit of joining scientific societies like AAAS, NPA or AWIS, participate actively in their events. Not only read their newsletter, but attend meetings, join one committee or volunteer to help out during events. This is a great opportunity to meet PIs, postdocs and PhD students from other institutes around Boston and increase your professional network, plus it looks great on your CV.

What do you win? Contacts, experience and insights into alternative careers (e.g. scientific management)

5.     Apply for fellowships

Look for postdoc fellowships, even partial ones, and apply. There are quite a lot of small organizations that sponsor postdocs/PhD students, often with strangely specific topics.

What do you win? Even if you don’t get the fellowship, just writing the application and maybe getting feedback from the organization you applied to, helps to identify areas which you need to improve. If you get it, you now have money! This gives you some independence from your PI, since it is your own money, plus it is a great advantage when applying for grants.

Every postdoc and every PI is different; some of these suggestions may not work for you or your PI. However, if you have experience with any of the above or other suggestions then please leave a comment!