Postdocs, principal investigators, institutions, funding agencies and nonprofits all must make strides in postdoctoral education and training that emphasize developing both research skills and professional competencies to ensure that postdocs achieve future success and that science in general becomes more productive. (Titled "It Takes a Village: The Role of Postdocs, PIs, and Institutions in Training Future Scientists" in print version.)
For postdoctoral researchers intent on having successful careers, spending every waking moment at the lab bench is the professional equivalent of burying your head in the sand. With the current economic climate, the increased interdisciplinary nature of today’s research and an increasing global reliance on science and technology, postdocs who gauge their success solely on bench productivity do so at their own professional peril. Postdocs, principal investigators, institutions, funding agencies and nonprofits must all make strides in postdoctoral education and training that emphasize developing both research skills and professional competencies to ensure that postdocs achieve future success and that science in general becomes more productive.
Postdoc— Develop Thyself
We have all heard it before: most postdocs (approximately 75 percent) will not end up in an academic career. So, the question remains, what can postdocs do to make sure they have the skills to succeed in a nonacademic career? Or, if they desire a tenure-track position, what can they do to set them aside from their competition? Postdocs need to take responsibility for their nonbench education. If their institutions have postdoctoral offices (PDOs), their first step should be to find out what programs are offered and to avail themselves of those programs. Many PDOs hold periodic research and/or career symposia that postdocs can take advantage of on their home turf. Next, a postdoc needs to find mentorship not just from his or her individual PI, but from multiple people who relate to his or her career and personal goals.
The postdoc should talk to his or her PI and offer to help with grant writing, budgeting, lab management, reviewing papers and mentoring students— all of these are transferable skills that can be used in many career paths. Postdocs should seek out resources that can enhance the mentor-mentee relationship and utilize them. They should look for organizations in which they can take on a leadership role in a nonlab setting, for example, the National Postdoctoral Association or the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Whether in or out of academia, the skills acquired and the networking contacts obtained will be invaluable. Remember, most people are hired because they know someone, not because they answered an advertisement. Although PIs and institutions share responsibility for providing advanced mentored training to a postdoc, the postdoc must be his or her own first and strongest advocate.
The Changing Role of Postdoctoral Mentoring
Accepting a postdoc, a trained independent researcher, into the laboratory today involves more than bringing on a highly skilled technician. The required inclusion of a mentoring plan for all National Science Foundation grants that support postdocs is just one example that illustrates the changing culture within U.S. scientific research. PIs need to remember that taking on a postdoc involves a significant mentoring investment. Mentoring does not just involve overseeing the individual, but committing to the promotion and success of the protégée’s career.