2012 - 07/13: Post-Doc Panel’s Post-Mortem

Graduate and postdoctoral students from Pharmacology to Microbiology and Biomedical Engineering to Health Sciences attended our Post-Doc Panel Event—gaining career insight from a motley group of panelists within government, industry and academia.

Panelists had their fair share of student life…

Lidia Sobkow did three postdocs in five years before choosing her path in commercialization of innovations for start-up companies. She recognized that traditional science career wasn’t a good fit for her skills and found that this route engages her in all aspects of developing technology.

I know the science language. I’m learning the business language and how business people work in industry. This puts me in the unique spot in between two worlds and allows me to facilitate a realistic dialog beneficial for both parties.” -Sobkow

Suzanne Golisz returned to the lab environment after working as a scientific program administrator for one year. Her postdoc position at Brookhaven National Laboratory, BNL, is one step on the path to a career in the chemical industry. Golisz also noted that the national laboratory system gives postdocs higher salaries than the academic system. (BNL is not the only lab of its kind in the U.S. though)

Making the jump from a graduate student to a researcher at a company is a really big jump, and since I was coming from a non-research position I decided it would be important to get back into the lab so that when I do make the next step to an industrial position, I’ll be ready to go. ” –Golisz

Daniel Farrell relinquished computer programming that analyzed air traffic patterns and returned to academia with the Laufer Center where he found his interest through professors who enjoyed what they did.

Sometimes you want to plan, be aware. Don’t let stupid things distract you. Don’t knock yourself out of the equation and give yourself a chance, get used to knowing and talking to people.” –Farrell

Nadine Dalrymple was always comfortable with academia, and wanted to expand her graduate research from insect viruses to public health, finally pursuing research on the dengue virus and how it leads to hemorrhagic disease.

What attracted me to this was that it was something that was starting out, so it would be my own project. I just felt I wasn’t as prepared in graduate school and wanted to be in charge and that’s something that I wanted in my postdoctoral experience.” -Dalrymple

Lolahon Kadiri knew she wanted to go into industry and talked to her postdoctoral advisor about any opportunities—where she was subsequently offered a position at a start-up company founded by the adviser.

At the end of my PhD training, I realized that the area of specialization I mastered during my PhD training was not in high demand in industrial research environment because most pharma companies were interested in biochemical or biomolecular skills. This lack of transferrable skills relevant to industry prompted me to get into academic postdoctoral training. Within a year and a half, I have learned new techniques and collected enough data to submit an article for a publication and moved on” -Kadiri

So, is that decision deadline creeping up on you?

The tip to succeed in academia, government and industry (without really trying) is figuring out the dynamics of the institution you’re applying to:

  • In academia, you’ll want to look at different postdoc labs and talk to the students, do some background reading on the lab
  • Sobkow says a postdoc will give you a chance to be independent and do what you want to do; it will also give you credibility on your work
  • Farrell recommends giving talks and poster presentations; if you can communicate well it opens up a lot of doors
  • Golisz suggests thinking early about fellowships because you’ll need a research proposal and an adviser
  • Kadiri advises to do some soul-searching and self-reflection before making any decisions about your career move. Start with identifying your strength and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and think of the general lifestyle you want in your future. Then get out of the lab and put yourself in novel situations, talk to people outside of your immediate research area, try new activities. This will give you enough opportunities to explore possible science-related careers beyond lab bench. Most and foremost know yourself and your priorities, since this will help you to evaluate the opportunities that come along the way and make the best possible decision about your next professional move.
  • For places like the Center for Biotechnology, Sobkow noted that while it’s oriented toward business it’s still set up in the academic environment (best of both worlds)
  • In addition to working at a national lab as a postdoc, all scientists have the opportunity to perform research at the national lab user facilities (e.g., National Synchrotron Light Source), according to Golisz

Tips from recruiters

“Breaking Down the Job Interview”

“Interviewing Skills for Chemical Professionals”

Source: American Chemical Society

Time for Job Hunting?

New York Academy of Sciences: Career Development

National Science Foundation



If you missed the event, don’t get all worked up. Keep following our posts—there are more events headed your way.