“Is postdoctoral training after graduate school worthwhile?” This is a question Ph.D. students often ask themselves. If you’re planning on an academic career, the clear answer is yes. But what if you know, or suspect, that you want to pursue a career in industry?
There are many benefits to postdoctoral training. And that’s just what it is–a training period where you further develop into an independent scientist. You formulate a project, define the scientific questions, and develop a strategy and framework to answer them without detailed input from the Principal Investigator (P.I.) or lab head. Often you will apply for your own funding based on projects you have devised.
If you eventually want to become an academic P.I. yourself, this training is essential to start establishing a line of research that you can pursue in your own laboratory.
Is a postdoctoral training period really relevant if your goal is a career in industry R&D (research and development)?
Even if academic research is not your goal, postdoctoral training can be very useful. There are those who would say that the independent, publish-or-perish, competitive environment in academia is not useful for industry. R&D in industry is typically a team-based effort where communication, cooperation, inter-dependency, shared information, open dialogue and a degree of humility are necessary to succeed. Those things aren’t always the norm in academia.
Should I skip the postdoctoral training and go directly into industry?
The truth is that most companies looking to hire entry-level Ph.D. scientists still require at least one or two years of postdoctoral experience.
If a postdoc is important, how do you make it the most beneficial for your career?
One option is to do an industry postdoc which can provide multiple advantages. For one, you get first-hand knowledge of a different scientific discovery “culture.” You still get the opportunity to lead and develop your own project, though you may not have the option to define the project yourself. Most likely, you will still be able to publish your results, too. You won’t have to write fellowship grant applications, and–perhaps best of all–it will count as industry experience when you are done. That makes taking the next step in your career much easier!
If an industry postdoc isn’t for you, you can still make yourself competitive for industry by doing an academic postdoc. Remember that it is important to choose training in an area that complements your graduate studies, but also has direct relevance to industry (e.g., related to a human disease for life scientists).
Life scientists with technical skills in one therapeutic area, such as infectious disease can find ways to apply them in a new field, such as immuno-oncology or autoimmune disease. Scientists focused in a discipline such as neuroscience can stay in the same field, but learn new complementary approaches (such as molecular techniques, stem cell technology, or optogenetics).
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