Early Career Psychologist Column

Some tips on making the most of a postdoctoral experience

Six tips for success.

By Andrea Robinson, PhD

Having just begun my postdoctoral training, I wanted to share some tips on how I plan to make the most of my postdoc experience. The transition from graduate student to postdoc can be difficult and you only have a small window of time to develop your research, training and teaching skills. Therefore, focusing on a few key goals can help maximize the experience and prepare you for the transition to an independent investigator.

  1. Plan. Make a clear plan about what you hope to get out of your postdoc experience, and write it down. I find that writing down my goals helps me clarify what I want, motivates me to take action and allows me to celebrate my progress. Set clear short-, mid- and long-term training and development goals. It is also a good idea to discuss these goals with your mentor at the start of your postdoc and regularly check-in about your progress.
  2. Keep training. When making your postdoc plan, think about the skills, knowledge and expertise you are lacking, and train towards filling these gaps in your skill set. In addition to improving technical skills, make sure you use your postdoc training to improve mentoring, teaching, project management, data analysis and communication skills.
  3. Publish, publish, publish. It is important to publish early on in your postdoc career. You don’t want too much time to go by without any progress. Generally, postdoc training only lasts a few years so make sure to get any papers out in a timely manner so they are on your CV when it comes time to apply for jobs. If things are slow on the publishing front, ask your mentor if you can join him or her in writing reviews and invited editorials. Finally, continue to work on and improve your scientific writing. Try to set time aside each day to write and ask for feedback on your writing.
  4. Seek your own funding. During your postdoctoral training it is important to start demonstrating your own independence as a researcher. External funding will not only give you more freedom in your work, but will also make you a more appealing candidate when applying for jobs. Below are funding mechanisms available that can support anything from small research projects, to training during your postdoc, to the transition period from your postdoc to an independent investigator. 
  1. Network. Besides turning out high-quality, impactful research, a successful postdoc should also make connections that help advance his or her career. Although sometimes difficult to do, jump at every chance to present your work. Attend conferences and meetings, and interact socially with other scientists. You never know where a conversation might lead. Making connections are essential to landing that future, dream job.
  2. It’s all about balance. Don’t forget to find time for life outside of work. Taking time for yourself (or your family) will allow you to feel more refreshed, focused and productive when at work.