Sunday, May 20, 2007

What does a postdoc do - part I: The beginning

Among all the more or less mysterious ways google leads people to this blog, the "what does a postdoc do" question is by far the most common. Some time in the not so distant past, when I was a grad student, I thought that a postdoc somehow equalled the grad experience just with better pay and without coursework, advisers and a demand for a dissertation at the end. What i mean is that I thought a postdoc equalled working on a specific research project for a set amount of time with the goal of publishing on x and y topic during that time. For some postdocs this is probably the way it is, for others it's something completely different. One thing I have realized is that the "postdoc" term covers so many variations that it's almost impossible to explain once and for all what it's all about. Most of us probably fall in a category somewhere in the middle. The "postdoc" title usually implies a position funded by someone else's project money. Depending on the PI's characters postdocs seem to be everything from research slaves to semi-independent participants in research groups, but I've also seen postdoc money fund people in more technical positions. Strictly speaking postdoc positions should not contain teaching or administrative duties, but most of the postdocs I know in real life as well as in the blogosphere find themselves participating to some degree in one or both of these activities sooner or later. As the postdoc employment should be a temporary experience most of us need to think along the lines of career enhancement at the same time, and often that means taking part in advising, teaching, administration and grant writing.

In reality only a small percentage of my time is being spent on the original research project that feeds me. One and half year in my responsibilities have developed to span three research projects, a heavy administrative load, some teaching, some advising as well as trying to publish articles from my dissertation and previous research activities. Is it good for CV building - yes, I think so. Is it good for keeping the work load at a sane level - No, I think not. Is it common - I have no idea. The specific combination of hats I wear on daily basis is probably not common, but I don't think development of side projects and additional responsibilities on top of the research project are uncommon at all.



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