What does a post doc do?
The past few days a discussion has been going on over at Young Female Scientist and ScienceWoman about what post docs actually do and if we're supposed to do what we do.
When I am not professing in the Arctic I am a post doc too, but boy, I do not recognize myself in many of the commenter's descriptions.
As others have said post docs are people who already have a PhD. We are not in a training phase (at least not more than any academic should be). We are generally a young, enthusiastic, smart and productive bunch of people, and we wouldn't have made it where we are now, if we weren't all these things. Anyway the perception of the post doc - phase as some sort of prolonged graduate education seems to be firmly rooted. Ideas such as "post docs should have better mentors" or should be provided with more guiding or better structure" seems to be flourishing among those who wants to improve our conditions on all continents. Sorry to let you down, guys, but we do not need guiding or structures or mentors more than any young-ish person might need those things, and we do not need any particular help in finding these.
What we do need is for PI's to live up to their responsibilities and treat people on their pay roll with the respect and independence they deserve. Why is it, that anyone in their right mind would hire someone with 20+ years of education and even consider not using this capacity to the fullest? I do not believe in post doc years as a training phase where the person in question should be protected from all other aspects of academic work than writing articles. On the other hand it makes me furious when I hear about post docs (or grad students for that matter) publishing in their advisors name and fame with very little to show for themselves when they need to move on.
It can be done. My own post doc experience has so far been great. Yes, I want a permanent job at some point and yes, I might want to change from my current government research institute to the university environment at some point, but that is for other reasons. My current working environment is really good. In my opinion, post docs are fully educated scientists, perfectly capable of doing the same work as any PI, but who haven't had the luck to find a faculty position yet. In my field faculty positions are incredibly rare and people often work as "post docs" or whatever title is attached to what are essentially the same soft-money positions for years. This does not mean that we will never break into the system, but that we do not have a regular cycle of job openings.
For the past year i have:
revised manuscripts from the dissertation
written a new manuscript based on an old line of research
done the logistic and scientific planning for the field season (with PI and project collaborator)
done field work directly related to my postdoc-grant project
been co-author on a new grant proposal (which is now funded)
developed a side-project with colleagues (not related to postdoc-grant)
attended professional meetings, networked and taken part in developing the department.
Next year I expect to:
Follow up on four different projects (some of these very near and dear to my heart)
Take on my first graduate students
do more administrative work in the department
This is not too different from what I would have spent my research time on in a faculty position, I believe. Last year when defending the PhD I had been pursuing one line of research for a long time. Before that I have worked in another sub field for my Masters degree. Now I feel I am developing as a researcher into someone who works across sub fields and contribute to the department and the group in my own particular way. I could and would not have done this any differently as a faculty member.
*I have the privilege of a four year position with full funding and a realistic chance of landing a permanent position afterwards, and this might influence my views. But basically I think post docs should be treated similarly whether hired for one or several years.
I am off to write a small grant proposal - in my own name.
Labels: post doc