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Summary: A new career in academia can be a challenge. While academia's formal rules are published in faculty handbooks, its implicit rules are often difficult to discern. Like the first edition, this new and expanded volume of The Compleat Academic is filled with practical and valuable advice to help new academics set the best course for a lasting and vibrant career.
This volume guides readers through academia's informal rules and describes the problems beginning s ...show moreocial scientists will face. With humor and insight, leading academics share the lessons they have learned through their own hard experience. Individual chapters present the ins and outs of the hiring process; the advantages of a postdoctoral fellowship; expert strategies for managing a teaching load; insider and applicant advice for winning a research grant; detailed instructions for writing and publishing a journal article; and a straightforward explanation about intellectual property issues. The book also addresses the latter stages of a career. It offers thoughtful suggestions for keeping one's career dynamic. Chapters that provide specific information for minorities, women, and clinical psychologists are also included. The volume even presents options for working outside of academia.
This book provides invaluable guidance that will help new academics plan, play, and ultimately win the academic career game.
After Graduate School: A Faculty Position or a Postdoctoral Fellowship?
Kathleen B. McDermott and Todd S. Braver
As you begin to consider options for your dissertation, it is probably time to start thinking seriously about the "next step" in your academic career. One big question with regard to this next step is whether you will pursue a postdoctoral fellowship (sometimes referred to as a postdoc) or go straight into a faculty position. This chapter considers some of the factors that may aid you in tackling this decision.
Whereas many of the chapters in this second edition constitute revisions of those in the first edition, this chapter did not exist in the first edition. Twenty or so years ago, postdoctoral fellowships were fairly rare in psychology and often taken by those who could not secure tenure track jobs directly following graduate school (although there were certainly exceptions to this generalization). The situation has now changed, and postdoctoral fellowships are now being increasingly pursued by even the most marketable of graduates.
There are several reasons why postdoctoral fellowships are becoming increasingly common in psychology. First, interdisciplinary work is gaining esteem. Postdoctoral fellowships offer the chance to obtain expertise in a discipline different from (but complementary to) the one in which the graduate work was done. The ideal postdoctoral fellowship will not constitute three more years of doing the same line of work that was carried out in graduate school but instead involve branching out into new territory. Second, in some subfields of psychology, skills are desired above those reasonably acquired during graduate training. A postdoctoral fellowship provides an opportunity to expose oneself to new disciplines and literatures, and to add technical or methodological skills to one's repertoire. For example a graduate student in a cognitive psychology program might decide to spend the first few postgraduate years learning neuroimaging techniques or other neuroscientific approaches to the study of cognition. With the increasing methodological sophistication of psychology as a whole, this pattern may begin to permeate other areas of psychology. Third, the changing nature of the social landscape has brought increasing acceptance of the need to achieve balance in one's career and personal life. Dual career families are increasingly common, as are shared responsibilities for child rearing. Postdoctoral fellowships are sometimes pursued to accommodate these personal goals.
Certain reasons for pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship will be relevant for certain people and not others, and the decision of whether to pursue a postdoc will be made for different reasons. There is no universal checklist or flowchart to suggest whether a postdoc is right for you; rather, the decision will entail the weighing of a number of factors, some of which may be unique to your individual life situation. We want to suggest that accepting a tenure track position immediately after graduate school is not always more desirable than a postdoc and that it is worth considering all your options before launching straight into your first faculty position.
In this chapter we will try to lay out some of the pros and cons involved in both faculty positions and postdocs. We will focus more on postdoctoral fellowships because faculty positions have traditionally been considered the default "next step" for people coming out of graduate school, and the advantages of these positions are widely known. We consider first some of the advantages of postdoctoral fellowships; we then consider some disadvantages to going this route. We also note that there are often constraints on making the decision; in other words, it is not always a case of determining what is the best professional decision, but instead of determining what decision best satisfies the constraints of your personal life.
We then touch on the process of finding a postdoc and end with a brief discussion of the importance of making the most of your postdoctoral fellowship should you choose to go that route.
Attractions of a Postdoctoral Fellowship
One of the most obvious advantages of a postdoctoral fellowship is that it offers the opportunity to expand and strengthen your CV so that when you enter the job market a few years later, you will be a much more attractive candidate. You will also have another person who is very familiar with your work who can write a well-informed reference letter for you.
A postdoctoral fellowship gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your strengths. This may be especially important for people whose research projects take a bit longer than normal to come to fruition or for "late bloomers," who may need a few extra years to really shine. For those who excelled in graduate school and were able to complete a series of projects, the postdoctoral fellowship offers the chance to show the world that it is you--not just your graduate advisor--who is capable of impressive work. A person who has flourished in graduate school may or may not be ready for a faculty position, depending on the role the advisor played in ensuring success in graduate school. A person who has succeeded while working in multiple labs, and in multiple research subfields, during their graduate and posdoctoral years probably has the skills and experience to also be able to succeed on his or her own.
In short, search committees seek junior candidates who have a high likelihood of making a smooth transition to being a productive faculty member; a postdoctoral fellowship can enhance this likelihood in their eyes. In addition to the factors mentioned above, your marketability and -- perhaps more importantly -- your ability to handle a faculty position will likely be enhanced at least in part due to the following advantages you can gain from a postdoc.
Broadening Your Research Domain
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, one of the primary reasons that people pursue postdocs is that they offer the opportunity to broaden one's knowledge base. It is becoming increasingly common for departments to seek prospective faculty that can "bridge" multiple traditional psychology subfields, or who have an interdisciplinary perspective. Through a postdoctoral position it is possible to become such a researcher, by combining your graduate training with expertise in new areas. This new expertise can come in multiple forms -- learning a different discipline, working with a new approach or technique, or studying a different subject population. Relevant examples include: the cognitive psychology PhD. who broadens into cognitive neuroscience by doing a postdoc in an animal neurophysiology lab; the social psychology PhD who gains statistical expertise by doing a postdoc in a lab that uses advanced statistical techniques, such as structural equation modeling; the clinical psychologist who desires greater research focus than was permitted by the clinical service demands of graduate school; and the personality psychology PhD. who incorporates a developmental approach by doing a postdoc in a lab that works primarily with children.
The particular area you may choose for your fellowship will depend upon your particular research focus and your interests. However, we wish to stress that postdoctoral fellowships are probably the most valuable if the goal is to broaden one's research into an area that is complementary to rather than fully redundant with the research approach studied in graduate school. The more angles from which you can approach your primary research question, the better.
Facilitating the Transition from Dependence to Independence
One of the most important (and perhaps under-appreciated) benefits that a postdoc offers is that it is a chance for you to begin to function as an independent researcher without all the demands that tend to accompany one's first faculty position. The transition straight from graduate school to a faculty position can be extremely abrupt. All at once, one loses the continual guidance and deadline structure imposed by most graduate programs and is faced with committee work, teaching, graduate students (in some cases), undergraduate advisees, and the prospect of setting up one's own laboratory and launching a new program of research. Many universities will expect their new faculty to submit grants shortly after arrival. You may be asked to begin reviewing manuscripts for journal editors. In addition, you will need to produce quality manuscripts and to get them published. Furthermore, the expectations for your level of productivity will often exceed the level that you were accustomed to in graduate school. The sudden change can be overwhelming.
A postdoctoral fellowship greatly aids in that transition; as a postdoctoral fellow, you will typically be sheltered from teaching, supervision, and other service-related responsibilities . You will no longer, however, be given the level of guidance you may be accustomed to as a student. There will be no committee checking on your progress, assigning readings to you, or helping you set deadlines and goals. Many advisors take less of a protective, nurturing approach with their postdocs than with their graduate students; the view is often that once a person has an advanced graduate degree, it is up to him or her to succeed or fail. The postdoctoral advisor typically sees his/her role as providing financial support, a working atmosphere conducive to productivity, and some amount of guidance. They are unlikely, however, to coddle you. Therefore, this is a chance for you to begin to function independently, and to do so without the multitude of stressors inherent in faculty positions. You can gain confidence and expertise in your research and writing ability in the relative comfort of a secure (if only temporary) job.
Getting Perspective: Seeing Yourself From the Outside
After Graduate School: A Job or a Postdoctoral Fellowship?
The Hiring Process in Academia
Options and Alternatives to the Academic Career: Jobs Outside of Academia
Tips for Effective Teaching: Planning and Managing Your Courses
Mentoring: Managing the Faculty-Graduate Student Relationship
Setting up Your Lab
Obtaining a Research Grant: A View From the Inside
Obtaining a Research Grant: A View From the Applicant
Power and Politics in the Academic Department and in the University
Managing Your Department Chair
Wiring the Ivory Tower: What You Need to Know About Technology
Clinical Psychologists in Academia: The Boulder Model
The Minority Experience
Women in Academia
Varieties of University Experience
The Academic Marathon: Managing the Academic Career
Managing Your Career Over the Long Haul
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