Postdoc 101

kaitlynroland   February 5, 2015   No Comments on Postdoc 101

I get a lot of people very cautiously approaching the question: what is a postdoc? what do you actually do? TRANSLATION: *do you have a real job? If so, what is it?

*NOTE: it is NOT national postdoc appreciation week. ... is that a thing? This comic is from September.

*NOTE: it is NOT national postdoc appreciation week. … is that a thing? This comic is from September.

I was a fairly successful graduate student. I had an amazing support team (PhD co-supervisors, committee members, colleagues and good friends) and some tri-council research funding; I completed my doctorate in the required timeline and published my dissertation work, all while maintaining my sanity and relationships. Phew!

So, I scored some funding and an opportunity to work with a world-class supervisor as a “postdoctoral fellow”. This is what I’ve been doing since 2012.

But, what does that mean? Well, it’s kind of like an internship – I get paid (*my funding agency keeps a roof over my head and supports my coffee consumption, as well as sends me to far away conferences/presentations – valencia! washington! nice! campbell river!) to conduct research projects, analyze data sets that my supervisor has, get my research out to the public… and publish, publish, publish!

What do I do as a postdoc? Well, postdocs typically finish writing up their PhD dissertation into a publishable format – either articles for scientific journals or in book form. Luckily, I can check that off my list. I conduct research (*mainly, interview and collect data from caregivers of persons with Parkinson’s disease and/or dementia, at the moment), I write papers (*which, hopefully, are published in scientific journals), I teach (*an online course on ‘healthy ageing’), I get to mentor undergraduate students who help me with data entry and analysis, I present at conferences (*you can see some of my recent ones here and here) and for the public, all while keeping my eyes on the job market. Academic job positions are typically posted once a year (Aug-Sept), resulting in applications submitted in the fall, interviews in the winter, and (if you cross your fingers and toes real tight!) a start date of July or September. In other words, AN ENTIRE YEAR. You get one shot a year. [pause for effect] So, this is a huge motivator to be productive with research and writing for your CV (*curriculum vitae, aka a resume of your academic accomplishments and involvements that can be infinitely long… my postdoc supervisors is over 100 pages!!!! Something to work up to, right?!).

And, how do I manage to do all this? Simple. Coffee.


… aaaand a good support team. Throw in a dash of focus, determination, and enjoyment (*no, the last one is not a typo).

It’s a pretty great place to be, actually. I make my own schedule. I have the opportunity to learn a new area of research and have a world-class supervisor who has really taught me independence and to trust my skills. I get to share my work with a community of my peers and those with Parkinson’s and their care partners. I’m getting great experience teaching, and am able to be as productive as possible. TRANSLATION: getting line-by-line closer to that 100+pg CV. much love.


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