Postdoctoral position can get stressful at times especially with the heavy workload and deadlines associated with this particular position. Catherine L Drennan, professor of chemistry and biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks about some of the must-dos and successful postdoctoral habits. Professor Drennan, who has five postdocs and eight graduate students in her Boston lab, has an excellent insight, hence below we shall discuss some of her useful tips:
1 Take ownership of your project: Your project is your baby. You should know about your project more than anyone else. Therefore, get the help that you need, network, take advantage of group and faculty meetings, read as much as possible about your research subject, and use variety of sources to get a perfect picture of the topic on hand. Being a postdoc doesn’t mean that you should know everything so bond with your project.
2 Read broadly and learn more about research: As a postdoc, you are responsible for your own training and education. Postdoc is a transition into an independent career. Hence learning and filling your knowledge gap is something you need to take care of throughout the whole postdoc period. Read the literature and attend seminars. If you are applying for faculty positions, you will need to write proposals, and thus you will need new ideas. Make sure that you are continuing to develop your skill set. For example, take the time to help a lab mate do an experiment if it means that you will fill in a hole in your education. Position yourself to run your own research group by learning the requisite skills/information.
3 Learn how to train people: People with PhDs lead research teams (either in industry or academia). Isolation makes little sense in this career path. Therefore, learning to work in a group and training others is an essential quality which you must invest time and effort in. Train undergraduate research opportunity program (UROP) students. Take the time to show others in the group how to do something. Take courses in mentoring and teaching.
4 Learn how to write scientific papers, and learn how to give scientific talks: Take the lead in writing papers based on your research. Critique other people’s papers. Take every opportunity to practice giving talks and presentations. Giving talks require a lot of skill set and strategies so it is good to enhance and develop this expertise from early on. Whether applying for industry or academic positions your job seminar is extremely important. Remember, good letters get you an interview, a good talk gets you the job.
5 Position yourself to get good letters of reference: Recommendation letters play a significant role in any career path as a matter of fact. Take every opportunity to network with collaborators (send regular progress updates, for example), and talk about your research in front of other faculty. Many MIT seminar series invite postdoc speakers (biophysics, microbial systems, biochemistry to name a few). Also speak at joint group meetings or your collaborator’s group meeting or area meetings.
6 Learn organizational skills: Time management, keeping records, goal setting, team management, keeping deadlines, delegation, and project management all fall into the organizational skills category. Pay attention to each single skill and be the best at them.
7 Be a good citizen of the lab and the department: Research is about teamwork. Show that you can get along well with others, and help out when the situation calls for it.
8 Network: Networking isn’t just about getting a good job, it is about positioning yourself to be successful in that job. Identify the scientific community that you want to be in, and get to know that community. While some networking opportunities are expensive such as attending national meetings in other cities, others are free and/or cheaper. Free activities include meetings with seminar speakers (ask your principal investigator if you can attend and present at his/her meeting with the speaker); lunches with seminar speakers; and hosting a seminar speaker. Attend free local meetings (MIT hosts many) and present a poster and attend national meetings when they are in your location and area. You can ask your PI of any speaking opportunities.
9 Learn how to write grants and apply for your own funding: You definitely need to learn how to pitch a creative idea, now pitching for money is a whole other specialty. Write research proposals by applying for your own funding. You can even help your PI write a grant even if it isn’t on the topic of your research. Grant writing requires you to learn a new set of writing and language skills so make sure you expose yourself to this quality.
10 Finish papers before you leave your postdoc: The number of papers you publish is important to your career, and once you leave your postdoc, the chances of an unfinished paper getting finished decrease. Finish everything you have on hand before leaving the position.
Hope these successful postdoctoral habits could be of help for the postdoc fellows and thanks to Catherine L Drennan for sharing such great information.