Student Column

Postdoctoral fellowships: what you should know while you're still in graduate school

Tips and tricks for graduate students seeking postdoctoral fellowships.

By Alexa Lopez

As doctoral-level students who are busy working on comprehensive exams and determining what they should propose for their dissertation, the concept of a post-doctoral fellowship has been long engrained by their fellow students and advisors. However, there are many factors that need to be considered before jumping into a post-doc following the dissertation defense and subsequent post-reinforcement pause before starting a two- to three-year fellowship. Practice-focused grad students should allow for the accumulation of supervised hours needed for licensure, while research-focused grad students can learn new techniques and fine-tune their research and career focus.

While this topic has been covered in gradPSYCH over the past decade, many of the tips and tricks that have been offered through those articles (Benson, 2006; Smith Bailey, 2004) still hold true today.

Postdoc Basics

The process is much more informal than applying to grad school or getting an internship placement; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

  • While practice-focused internships and clinical neuropsychologists have a matching process, it can be a little more vague for psychologists looking for a postdoc. 

  • This fosters independence while still being in graduate school and allows more concentrated research and training experience.

Start early and set goals.

  • It’s recommended to start thinking about post-docs while applying for internships or while writing your dissertation. 

  • Also think about what it is you want to get out of the experience.

Do homework and network.

  • Will this fellowship fit with your goals? It is important to talk to former or current postdocs and see what advice they have. 

  • Conferences and professional meetings provide the perfect opportunity to reach out to potential mentors and experts in the field to see if they are accepting postdocs.

Practice-Focused Postdocs

Be proactive

  • Find out if your internship site also has the option of returning for a postdoc.

Choose between formal and informal

  • APA- or APPIC-accredited programs are designed to give you specialized experience. 

  • More informal programs involve working as a psychological assistant or unlicensed psychologist for a private practitioner where you can log hours and gain high-quality experience, but you risk missing the mark on APA postdoc guidelines that are guaranteed through accreditation.

Research-Focused Postdocs

Mentor fit

  • Again, here’s where you need to do some homework; talk to former postdocs, look at past publications to see if fellows can obtain authorship with the mentor.

  • Considering the right balance of independence and mentorship is also important.

Funding

  • While most programs may have funding mechanisms that account for postdoctoral training, you may end up being funded off of grants that can change from year to year.

Goals and expectations 

  • Once you have found a mentor, work together to determine objectives you will complete during the fellowship.

  • Continuously evaluate your progress on these goals under mentor supervision.

  • Pursue a match that will help to develop a sustainable career.