Frequently Asked Questions About Post Docs


1. What are the benefits of a postdoctoral position? 

The postdoctoral experience can help you to expand your research skills as well as your vitae.  For a researcher, producing quality publications during the postdoc is crucial.  Completing a postdoctoral position allows you to demonstrate your own research independence and possibly develop a project on your own.  It also provides an opportunity to gain another mentor, make new contacts, and work with different people and in a different setting.

 

2. How do you decide whether to apply for a postdoctoral position versus a faculty position? 

This decision has to do with your ultimate career goals.  Most people who plan to focus primarily on research will complete a postdoctoral position.  An individual more interested in teaching, private practice, etc. may not find postdoctoral training necessary.  There is no reason why you cannot apply for both postdoctoral and faculty positions that you might be interested in and feel qualified for, although most research-oriented institutions prefer an applicant with postdoctoral experience.  In addition, the process may differ considerably for clinically vs. empirically trained students, so it’s important to keep this in mind and consult your mentor.


3. When do you apply for postdoc positions compared to faculty jobs? 

Since most faculty positions begin in the fall, advertisements for these positions usually appear during the prior fall/early springtime.  This time is also when postdoctoral positions are heavily advertised.  Thus, it is to your advantage to apply for both at the same time.  However, postdoc positions are generally advertised for a longer period and are more likely to be available at any time of the year.

4. How typical is it to create a postdoctoral position by contacting an individual you would like to work with, applying for funding, etc.? 

It is always a good idea to contact someone you would be interested in working with to see if they may be interested in you as a postdoc.  It is possible that they may have available funding or opportunities that you could apply for in their lab/institution.  Or they may agree to sponsor your application for a grant such as an NIH National Research Service Award.  If this is the case, you may want to apply for additional positions to increase your available options upon graduation.

 

5. What is the best way to find a postdoctoral position in psychophysiology? 

There are several options for securing a postdoc position.  One option is to look for advertised positions on the SPR job website, and in the APA and APS classified ads.  Another, as mentioned above, is to contact someone you’d be interested in working with; you may meet a potential postdoc mentor at a meeting or through your graduate school mentor.  The “networking” process is a very common way to find out about potential postdoctoral positions in psychophysiological research.

 

6. If you have several potential manuscripts in the works, is it better to postpone applying for postdocs to spend time writing up existing data sets from grad school, or to start a postdoc right away, even if it means taking a longer time to publish on existing data? 

In most instances, it is to your advantage to continue on to the postdoc for a couple of reasons.  One, even if you begin a postdoc you will still be publishing, whether it’s new or old data; thus you will still be productive at the same rate or better.  Granted, it can be tough to juggle all the responsibilities, however the luxury of a postdoc is that research is the primary focus (e.g. no courses to take, etc.)  Also, depending on how long you’ve been in grad school, you don’t want to delay graduation too long.  Circumstances are different for each individual, but if you’ve been productive in grad school, you should continue to be productive as a postdoc.  Be sure to get your mentor’s advice on your particular situation.

 

7. How do you know whether to apply for research vs. clinical postdoctoral positions?

The decision to apply for one or the other really needs to be driven by one's passion for research versus clinical service.  If research is your main priority or you feel you’d like more empirical training, a research oriented postdoc may be more appropriate for you and will probably allow for more publications during your tenure as a postdoc.  If you feel you need more clinical experience after graduate school, you may opt for a more clinically oriented position.  Fortunately, clinical psychophysiology is a rapidly growing interest, therefore a number of positions are likely to be available in which you can gain experience in both areas.  When interviewing for postdoc positions, be sure to ask your potential mentor about the expected balance between your clinical and empirical activities, and check into licensure for that particular state as the requirements can vary considerably.  A great site to find this information is http://www.uky.edu/Education/EDP/psyinfo2.html

 

8. Do most students do a postdoc at their internship site?  If the internship site doesn't 'officially' offer postdocs, what are the chances you'll make connections and create a postdoc while on internship? 

Since the internship is more likely to focus on clinical training rather than research, it is not typical for a student to continue as a research postdoc at their internship site.  In general, postdoc positions will rely on the amount of funding available, rather than whether you make the right connections.  However, every situation and institution is different, so it’s not entirely impossible.  It just depends on the department or institution, the available funding, and the research potential you’ve demonstrated.  If you are looking to piece together a variety of clinical opportunities, that would be more likely.  Many internship sites encourage their interns to continue on as postdocs (although typically in a clinical, rather than research, capacity).  These are good questions to ask during the internship interview process.

 

9. Is it possible for the postdoctoral site to consider the individual for follow-up research or faculty positions?  Is it polite to ask about this possibility before applying/accepting a postdoctoral position? 

Since postdoctoral positions are designed to be brief and provide additional training, people generally move on to another postdoc or faculty position at a different institution.  However, if a research or faculty position were to become available in your department at the right time, you could apply just as anyone else.  Prior to applying/accepting a postdoctoral position, the mentor probably cannot predict whether an opening will be available.  Also, he/she has not observed you as a researcher, and therefore it is unlikely he/she could tell you about the possibility of a follow-up position.