Let me start with a giant disclaimer, and one that I end up repeating a lot when we discuss these options in my professional development graduate seminar. If you are an international student looking for a post doc in the United States, your options are relatively limited, as you won’t be able to do an individual or institutional post doc funded by NIH (or a number of other governmental agencies). You cannot, unfortunately, be as picky in this situation. I always feel the need in class to say “I’m sorry” to international students as I discuss options more generally. Though since it’s not my fault, maybe I shouldn’t apologize…
So, I would say at least in my discipline, there are five different types of post docs (I started with four but added a fifth as I was writing):
1. Institutional training grants. This category includes T31’s from National Institutes of Health, which are relatively common in my discipline. There are several advantages to institutional post docs. You do not have to plan for them a year in advance – you can apply on a regular application cycle (often late fall or early spring for a fall start date). They usually come with protected time for writing/getting your own research done. And, they usually come with a fair bit of professional development training – activities such as support for writing papers, support for writing and submitting grants, and support for going on the job market. When the PI’s apply to renew the T32, they usually have to report on the current status of all of their alumni, which makes the team of mentors highly invested in their post docs’ success.
2. Individual training grants. For these training grants, you apply to do a specific research project with a training program, and if you get funded, receive a stipend as well as some research funds to carry out the project. Generally, doing such a post doc involves a relatively involved application, and you have to identify a mentor before applying, often a year or more in advance. An obvious advantage of this type of post doc is that you’ve identified your own project and training – so, if you want additional skills in neuroscience/statistics/prevention/whatever, you can identify a specific team of mentors, training site, and research project to carry out that project. The disadvantage is that you have to apply so early, that you often have to identify the site and mentors up to two years in advance to be able to write the application so far in advance with the training team. In addition to F32 applications through NIH, some other common ones related to our discipline include:
NSF SBE Postdoctoral Fellowship
Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship
AAUW’s American Fellowship
Fulbright (International project)
Ford Foundation Fellowship Program
3. Individual fellowships outside of academia: I do not know of as many of these, but they would include things like the SRCD social policy fellows program, where you go to Washington DC and use developmental science to inform public policy in the congressional or executive branch. These are great for individuals who want to either find work outside of a university setting, or are interested in more translational research and want to get a sense of how to make an impact with that research.
4. Post doc position on specific research grant. Sometimes, faculty advertise for a postdoctoral position where they pay a full time PhD to work on a specific research grant. One advantage of such a position is it is generally an option for international scholars – that is, there aren’t the same citizenship restrictions. Another option is that if there is a specific researcher you want to work with, and if he has funding, it provides an opportunity to do so. The disadvantage is that, because you are paid off of a specific grant, you will be working on that grant and may have less freedom to work on other projects or to publish your work from earlier grad school projects. A lot depends on the PI you work for. In some cases, the PI really wants a project manager and you may end up doing a lot of participant recruitment, organization, running participants, and/or data management. In other cases, the PI really may need someone to analyze and write up data, so you may actually have an opportunity to build your CV and get publications out. It’s really important to get a very clear sense of what the PI will expect from you before you accept this type of position.
5. Teaching post doc. Some universities now have teaching post doc positions. These often require that you teach a certain number of courses for 1-2 years. Sometimes they also include dedicated time for your own research writing. For students who want a career as faculty at a smaller liberal arts college, but who are graduating without much teaching experience, such a post doc can be a good experience. However, you often also have to have a decent publication record to get the job. It’s rare that top liberal arts colleges will hire faculty without a publication record, even if they have a strong teaching record. So, think about your goals, and your record, as you decide what you need during this period before going on the academic job market.
I haven’t even discussed all of the personal situations that might limit your options, particularly in terms of geographic mobility and partner issues. Basically, there is no one right type of postdoctoral position. It’s important to figure out both what your career goals are, what your constraints are, and what each specific post doc option looks like, and then find the best fit for you.
“What type of post doc should you do? first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on August 9, 2018.”