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Career Opportunities With a PostDoc

The skills and experience you acquire as a PostDoc are transferable to a variety of careers, some of which you may not have thought of, or previously considered.

This guide will give you some examples of the professions that people who obtain PostDocs often go into. Of course, this does not mean you are limited to these options.

Continue in academia

Many university-based PostDocs exist to prepare people for the first part of an academic career.

Assistant lectureships and early-career academic roles

An Assistant Lectureship is usually the first permanent job on the ‘academic career ladder’. Teaching and researching at a university or higher education institution is the most traditional career path following an academic PostDoc, allowing you to pursue your research interests and share them with students. You are able to contribute to the direction of your field as you move up the career ladder.

The job comprises lecturing and supervising students, managing academic admins and contributing to the research profile of your department or group. As you progress, you will write grant proposals and attend conferences to showcase your work, whilst also learning about other advances in your field.

Many people undertake a PhD and a PostDoc with this profession in mind, but it is not uncommon to re-enter academia after doing a PostDoc in industry.

Successful assistant lecturers will eventually move on to more senior academic roles. The traditional UK pathway goes from PhD, to PostDoc, to Assistant Lecturer, to Lecturer, to Senior Lecturer, to Reader and finally to Professor. In the US, this is known as being enrolled on a tenure track. A tenured post is a permanent academic appointment, and this gives someone the freedom to pursue academic research without fear of losing their university post.

Some universities also offer more limited Research Fellowships or Teaching Fellowships as early-career roles. These tend to focus on one aspect of academic work and may be fixed-term, with the opportunity for you to move on to a permanent Assistant Lecturer or Lecturer role.

Academic research

You may also be able to focus on university research without pursuing a faculty teaching position. Jobs in academic research include Research Associate, Technical Support Specialist and Senior Research Associate. These are more common in STEM fields.

Alternative academic

PhD and PostDoc experience can also be valuable in other academic careers that focus on management, leadership and policy rather than core teaching and research. For example, staff scientists don’t have to worry about writing grants and running a lab and are instead responsible for the maintenance and use of an instrument or piece of equipment.

Other roles include work in administration, fundraising or managing university departments and research centres.

Industry

Many PostDocs lead to work outside the university, particularly in STEM fields. The range of organisations and roles is very broad.

Industrial research and development (R&D)

Industrial R&D bridges the gap between research and business, using applied research to solve practical problems, or help to create new technologies, products and services. Industrial postdoctoral schemes can allow you to work as a researcher in fields such as IT, aerospace, banking, finance or manufacturing.

Pharmaceutical research and development (R&D)

Pharma R&D, also known in Europe as research and technological development (RTD) is research conducted at a pharmaceutical company involved in drug development for commercial and medical use.

As someone who has completed a PostDoc, you will have greater experience in problem solving and understanding what the necessary steps are to obtain a reliable result. Industry is also heavily reliant on people who are proficient in working as part of a team, which is also a skill needed for postdoctoral researchers.

Business and Management

Other companies also employ PostDocs in non-industrial roles.

Market research

Market research exists in most industries but is significant in innovation based sectors such as electronics, IT or biotechnology. Market research analysts are expected to gain a complete understanding of the commercial landscape associated with a specific sector/technology. The role includes gaining information about commercialisation opportunities as well as evaluating key advantages and disadvantages of products compared to competitors in order to maximise revenues.

The skills gained when doing a PostDoc, such as knowing how to interpret data and act upon that in a productive manner, makes this a solid career choice for someone who wants to leave academia.

Product management

Product management comprises overseeing the life-cycle of an innovative product from development to after the product launches. A product manager analyses a products market performance and also determines ways to boost the products commercial success.

This job requires someone who can be multifunctional and is able to collaborate across multiple divisions of an organisation which are competencies gained from a postdoctoral position.

Consultancy

A consultant is a professional who provides expert advice and can be appointed in many different areas. Consultants design unique strategies to overcome problems and must be able to work in a collaborative manner in which communication and leadership skills are crucial. PostDocs are valuable for this job role as they have been trained in troubleshooting difficult problems.

Entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneur, you develop new business opportunities, manage existing products, develop market strategies and build new business partnerships. This can be alone or as part of a company.

PostDocs excel at understanding complex technologies and having advanced analytical skills, which is crucial to technology-based sectors such as biotechnology, software, consumer electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Finance or banking

Global banks, investment firms and private trading companies are ideal places to apply the quantitative, statistical and research skills you may have acquired during your postdoctoral research.

Public engagement

The added experience gained from a PostDoc can also be a great way to move from specialist academia into explaining that research to a wider audience.

Medical communication

Medical writing is a popular career choice for those who would like to leave academia. Medical writers / communication specialists have responsibilities that include writing and editing materials that healthcare organisations will use to communicate with patients, clients and medical professionals.

The formats that the writing comes in can range from patient brochures and physician articles to sales training materials etc. PostDocs are good for this role as they have developed communication and writing skills and if you have been involved in public engagement or teaching then you can cater information to your target audience appropriately.

These skills are not limited to PostDocs working in Clinical Science or subjects related to Medicine, meaning this is an option for PostDocs in any field of study.

Science Communication

Science communication is the practice of educating and raising awareness of science-related topics. The scientific knowledge of the science communicators audience greatly varies and because of this there are different types of scientific communication, which also depends on where you decide to work. Science outreach refers to communication and journalism conducted by professional scientists to non-expert audiences, and science ‘inreach’ is expert-to-expert communication.

A science communicator can work at a scientific publisher / journal in an editorial or workflow management role, or as an academic editor. This career choice is also unique in the fact that if you wanted, you could be a freelance science communicator.

Government

After doing a PostDoc, you can bring new ideas and skill by working with a government organisation such as a funding agency, research and development board, planning committee, administration or a strategic or decision-making role.

Working for a non-profit organisation

Apply your skills to a cause you support. This could be in the area of healthcare, medicinal sector, wildlife conservation, natural resource management and a plethora of other options.

Working for a non-profit organisation requires good time management, being professional and working efficiently in a team. A lot of the aspects of working within this kind of role are ‘learned on the job’ however, as the aspects of this sector are constantly changing, and can greatly depend on how well or quickly the organisation grows. After doing a PhD and a PostDoc, being able to teach yourself and learn quickly is something you will have mastered over the years.


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