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Finding the Right Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program

At the completion of nearly every stage of your career, you will probably find yourself asking the question, “Whatʼs next?” For an increasing number of recent Ph.D. graduates, the answer is seeking a post-doctoral fellowship position. A post-doctoral fellowship is typically a full-time research appointment, lasting between 1-5 years. Post-doctoral researchers generally work under the supervision of a principal investigator or mentor. These research positions are often undertaken as preparation for a tenure-track position in academia. Finding the right post-doc position can be a key step along the road to that perfect career you envision.

In todayʼs environment, primary consideration should be given to the funding status of the lab. Working in a NIH-funded lab with a successful mentor who is active in the field, having successful grants and numerous publications, clearly demonstrates the labʼs productivity. Productivity will provide an indication of the chance for you to have long-term success in the lab. Additionally, mentors who encourage their post-docs to pursue independent funding more adequately prepare them for the harsh realities of acquiring extramural funding as a new principal investigator. Working closely with your mentor on the intricacies of grant writing will prove invaluable to your future success.

In my opinion, another important consideration when seeking a post-doctoral position is the type of lab you would like to join. Would you rather continue your training in a relatively new, young lab or in a more established lab environment? Post-doc training in younger labs may lead to closer collaborations with your mentor, constant feedback on your progress, and on-the-spot training for the leadership required for your own successful research lab. On the other hand, seeking a post-doc in a more established lab oftentimes has the benefit of already established techniques and technical support networks, creating a scientific machine that continues running smoothly even when the PI is not in the lab. You should also consider the size of the lab you will be entering. How many other postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students are there and where will you fit in amongst them? Regardless of the lab environment, it is critical that you ensure that you will be engaged intellectually in the scientific research and progress of the lab.

It is equally as important to consider the type of research you would like to do as a post-doc. You can continue to make use of the specialized training you received during your Ph.D. training by continuing to work in a similar field, with the goal of both contributing and learning new and valuable information. Or, you can diversify and choose to go in a completely new direction, learning new techniques in a new area of research. Obviously, in either scenario, you must be deeply interested and passionate about the scientific research that will be involved with.

Last, but certainly not least, consideration should be given to seemingly ancillary topics: location, benefits, and spousal requirements, to name a few. You will likely be living in this area for 3-4 years, so it is important to make certain the environment outside of the lab is a good fit. Additionally, many post-docs will find themselves thinking about starting a family. It may be valuable to discuss this potential with your mentor. Careful consideration to all aspects of your life as a post-doc will be exceedingly beneficial to your productivity.

In conclusion, there are obviously a multitude of things to consider when seeking a post-doctoral fellowship position. Do not let your passion for the science get overlooked!

Jody Greaney
Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of ACSM
Finding the Right Post-Doctoral Fellowship Position