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To Postdoc or Not?

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch January 20, 2020

Many PhDs are considering next career steps after the completion of their degree. A big question on many minds is, “Should I do a postdoc or not?” Stephanie Eberle addresses this question in an article on Inside Higher Ed, “Do You Need a Postdoc?”

Eberle contends that “Many PhD students simply default to postdoctoral training as a logical next step, when instead they should be making a much more intentional choice.” This is similar advice to an OITE blog post on “Finding the Perfect Postdoc” where the very first question addressed is whether you really need a postdoc. OITE encourages you to explore what types of job are available for PhD-level scientists. There are many options available – from regulatory affairs to science writing to education and beyond. If you have confirmed your decision to pursue a postdoc, this article also addresses where to look and how to choose among postdocs, as well as a section on whether you should consider special postdocs.

Postdoc positions can provide more opportunity to practice independent research, which is especially helpful if you wish to stay in academia. In many instances, a postdoc is a necessary next step for an academic career path. However, if you aren’t sure and are using a postdoc as a chance to further explore career options, then this extra training can even be counterproductive. It often ends up delaying your entry into a desired field of choice.

Eberle encourages PhDs to avoid making fear-based decisions. She contends:

“The question of whether or not you have to complete postdoctoral training to get a job is not a good starting point. You should decide if you want to do one in the first place. Ideally, around the second or third year of your doctoral training, use myIDP, other assessment tools and informational interviews to both understand yourself and the activities and values of various career options. Pursuing a postdoc because you might regret leaving academe later is fear-based decision making, not intentional. Remember, something is pushing you away from academe in the first place. Lean into that fear and work with a coach to define and explore options.”

If you are at the NIH, you can always meet with a career counselor to discuss your thoughts, ideas, and feelings about your options.

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