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.