September 2010

The Role of Postdocs, PIs and Institutions in Training Future Scientists

About the Authors
• Zoë Fonseca-Kelly ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania
• Darwin J. Operario ( is a postdoc/research affiliate at Wadsworth Center/N.Y. State Department of Health
• L. David Finger Jr. ( is a biophysicist project scientist at the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the City of Hope Beckman Research Institute
• Anthony J. Baucum II ( is a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University
All are members of the NPA

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The advice is worthy of readings by PIs. Most of the PhDs who come to me for alternative career strategies do so because their PIs not only are lax (or uninterested) in their postdocs' development in general, or are outright antagonistic about the postdocs' desire to explore alternative careers. Hence, what is written may be an idealized situation that is not the reality for many would-be alternative PhD careerists. - Jane Chin, Ph.D. []




  • Andy, thanks for your conetmms. There are indeed many and sensible reasons why people such as yourself stay in long-term postdoc positions. The reason you give of wanting to stay in a given place is one of those advanced as being particularly disadvantageous to women, who often may be the trailing partner though it can cut either way. Similarly, the average gap in years you identify between starting being a postdoc and landing a permanent position has also increased over the years undoubtedly. Nevertheless, for people who find themselves getting into this insecure no-man's land I can only reiterate one should:Seek advice from anyone and everyone as to whether they feel you have what it takes to get that lectureship;If not work out if certain steps could improve your chances (training, getting exposure at conferences etc) and then make sure to act upon what you find (and if even that seems likely to be insufficient, act upon the implicit advice rather than keep fingers and toes crossed something will pan out);See if you can apply for fellowships which give you independence although I grant you if you can't move that is usually looked at with disfavour for the reasons you identify, of not being able to differentiate yourself sufficiently from your academic boss.Check whether there are any permanent support posts (few and far between in my experience) for senior postdocs.If none of the above apply then, harsh though it seems, sometimes trying to work out an exit strategy may be preferable than endless frustrating insecurity. Of course it may not be, there can still be much satisfaction in continuing to be stuck into the excitement of bench science or whatever, so leaving may remain a less attractive option than staying. If I can bring in the gender angle agaiin, there is evidence (from this survey and elsewhere) that women are more prepared to leave rather than fret in insecurity, trying to find positive alternatives early rather than wait to find the sa

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