Licensure and Continuing Education

You Just Might Need a Post Doc

According to the National Postdoctoral Association, a post doctoral scholar is “an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.” The number of postdocs in the United States has been on the rise, but becoming a postdoc is not essential to every career. How do you determine if becoming a postdoc is right for you? Becoming a postdoc is a big decision, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the previous question. However, there are a few things that you could consider while you are researching how a post doctoral fellowship could benefit you in your chosen field.

You have a clear vision of your career path.

Many graduate students accept post doctoral fellowships after they receive their PhD simply because that’s what they have seen others do or because accepting postdoc fellowships provides them with a “safety net” for the next couple of years. However, the postdoc fellowship will eventually end, and then you will need to consider what you should do next. Therefore, when you accept a postdoc, you should make sure that the fellowship is relevant to your own research and career goals and that it will make you more marketable to future employers. A postdoc fellowship can be exciting, but you don’t have to take the first postdoc offered to you because all postdocs are not created equal. You should be doing a postdoc fellowship to further your own training and experience in the field, not to create a line item on your resume.

You can afford a low-paying position.

According to the U.S. Census’s Current Population Survey of 2004, the median salary of postdoc survey respondents between the ages 28–37 was $38,000, compared with that of survey respondents who were employed and had a professional degree ($72,000), a doctoral degree ($71,000), a master’s degree ($55,950), or a bachelor’s degree ($38,000). Because of the low median salary of postdocs, you really need to weigh your own personal needs before you pursue a post doctoral fellowship. If you have a family who depends on your income, then you should assess if finding immediate employment to start paying off loans or if applying for a postdoc to gain more experience might better benefit your situation.

When thinking about becoming a postdoc, you should remember to consider the long- and short-term pros and cons. Not every career requires a post doctoral fellowship, so ask your professors and colleagues what they recommend, and decide what’s right for you.


Types of Continuing Education

Many folks think that they are done learning the moment they graduate from graduate school; however, in many instances, this is not necessarily true. Depending on your particular field and/or licensure associated with your degree, you might be required to take continuing education courses. Even if you are not required to take continuing education, you could still benefit from taking certain types of continuing education courses on your own. The benefits of taking continuing education courses might include the following: obtaining specialized knowledge, earning certifications, and keeping what you learned in grad school fresh in your mind, all of which might make you more marketable to potential employers.

As you probably experienced at the beginning of your career as a graduate student,

you will be ahead of the game in continuing education if you begin early. Before you even graduate, you should ask your professors and advisors about associations or memberships that are prestigious in your field of study. Consider giving a lecture concerning your specific area of expertise at a broad convention of colleagues. Remember, continuing education does not simply mean that you are attending more courses and gaining more education; continuing education is also about widening your contacts and getting your name out there in terms of your personal brand.

There are many types of continuing education courses, and the types vary greatly by field; however, there are some common formats of continuing education that are pretty standard across different fields. For example, you can typically earn continuing education credits by attending certain workshops or talks at conferences for professional organization. Typically, the cost of attending conferences is fairly reasonable; however, you will also want to factor in the cost of travel and other costs associated with attending conferences. Continuing education at conferences may be more beneficial than some other forms of continuing education because continuing education at conferences allows you a greater opportunity to network.

In addition to attending professional conferences, you could also take some types of continuing education courses at universities. Like continuing education at conferences, continuing education at universities is also typically in the form of workshops. In addition to continuing education at conferences and universities, you can also find books and other training materials that you can use you to continue your education; some books and other training materials may require an examination after you complete the training materials. More recently, there has been an increase in the number and availability of online courses. The advantage of online courses for continuing education is that online courses can be completed as your schedule allows.



Certification and Licensure: When a Degree Alone Is Not Enough

Depending on your field, simply having a degree may not be enough to legally and ethically allow you to independently practice within your field. Many professions, especially those that require graduate degrees, also require licenses to practice. For example, practically all professions related to medicine—nursing, physical therapy, psychology—require certification and licensure for practice.

If you happen to be in a field that requires a license to practice, you were probably aware of this either prior to starting graduate school or at some point during your graduate training; however, there are some factors that you might not have considered. Though they vary by field, most licensing boards operate at the state rather than at the federal level because standards and processes to obtain and maintain licensure vary from state to state.

Before you begin the certification and licensure process, you should consider where you plan to work. If you relocated for grad school, do you want to continue to work in the area to which you moved, do you want to move back to your home town, or do you want to live somewhere completely different? Once you decide on a location, you can begin to research the process for getting licensed in that state. Also, remember to look up the exact terms of your license because you will probably need to renew your license every year that you continue to practice.

Another factor that many people often overlook is the cost of certification and licensure. Some types of licensure require individuals to take one or more exams, which can cost hundreds of dollars per test. Also, many exams and licensing tests are very difficult to pass on your first attempt, especially if you do not invest in preparation classes and materials, which can also be quite costly. Add on top of all this the possible costs of having to travel to a central location for an oral exam and the costly fees associated with applying for licensure. Suffice it to say, becoming licensed can be a very expensive process, and money is typically not readily available for recent, unemployed grads. However, many employers provide financial assistance to help with the cost of certification and licensure. Even if potential employers do not advertise that they offer this as a benefit of the position for which you are applying, it never hurts for you to ask. For example, if becoming licensed is a requirement for you to be hired by a specific company, you should ask during your final hiring and contract negotiations whether the company will financially help you become licensed.


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