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Types of PostDoc – Information and Guides

There are several varieties of PostDoc available to PhD graduates. Postdoctoral researchers work in lots of different settings, including universities, other research bodies and industry. The best kind of PostDoc for you may depend on your field, the country you are researching in and your career plans. This page describes some of the varieties of PostDoc appointments, as well as the advantages and disadvantages that come with different settings.

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Academic PostDocs

Postdoctoral positions at universities are the most traditional type of PostDoc and because of this, they are relatively easy to find. In fact, the number of university-based PostDocs (as well as PhDs) has been increasing over the years.

An academic PostDoc takes place under the supervision of a principal investigator (PI) or mentor. You will usually research a pre-specified project or one of your own design. There are a range of responsibilities that come with being a postdoctoral researcher. These include academic research, teaching (some more than others), publishing, writing grant proposals, and supervising undergraduate and postgraduate projects.

PostDocs at universities may not have as high a salary as permanent academic researchers, or enjoy the same benefits (these are temporary contracts). However, an academic PostDoc is one of the best routes for early-career academics, providing additional research and publication opportunities. You’ll also become more familiar with routine academic work than you were during your PhD.

Transitional PostDocs

A transitional PostDoc simply refers to a PhD student staying on to continuing his or her doctoral research, but as a PostDoc within the same lab group and university.

This is usually negotiated between the PhD student and the supervisor, in which they have agreed that it is worthwhile (and that there is funding available) to further expand on current research projects and create more opportunities to publish. Generally, this kind of PostDoc is not as long as a more formally appointed PostDoc position, which has been assigned to a more novel, specific project. Many PhD students will undertake a transitional PostDoc whilst they look for other jobs.

Industry PostDocs

Industrial PostDocs, which can also be referred to as research scientists, still make up a relatively small amount of postdoctoral researchers compared to those who stay in academia. As opposed to an academic PostDoc, which some people are attracted to because of the autonomy and freedom, an industry-based PostDoc is much more team-driven.

If you cannot decide between an industry PostDoc and a more traditional university PostDoc, there are some PostDoc opportunities that combine the two. These are generally funded by an industrial partner, but some of the research is done at a university, so you can split your time between the two and experience both working environments.

Some organisations tend to hire PostDocs as permanent employees after their PostDoc contract has finished, others are less likely to do this. The perks of an industry-based PostDoc include the use of cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art facilities. However, if you are interested in building your academic repertoire through publications, the chance to do this is more limited and less common for people in industry.

Government PostDocs

Government PostDocs involve working for government agencies such as the National Institute of Health.

Postdoctoral training within a government agency is a less obvious route compared to that of an industrial PostDoc or academic PostDoc position, but these opportunities can combine the perks of both.

You are encouraged to publish your work and gain academic recognition, but the salary for a government PostDoc tends to be higher than for an academic PostDoc. Also, government agencies commonly employ international PostDocs.

However, you won’t have the same opportunities to do other academic work such as teaching students or writing grant proposals. As such, government PostDocs may be a better route to a career in industry than to an academic job.

Non-profit organisation PostDocs

Non-profit organisations (NPOs) include a very broad range of charities, foundations, patient associations, trade unions, professional associations and academic societies. Many NPOs make money and even surplus funds but must use those funds to serve the organisation mission.

A PostDoc can work for a NPO by carrying out research and / or fieldwork, run international development programmes in a variety of fields such as health and education or rural infrastructure. Some also focus on teaching, public engagement and knowledge exchange. NPOs of different sizes can vary massively in work culture, salary and flexibility of research avenues, but an advantage of this kind of PostDoc is that you are able to work within a team to put your research into real world problems into practice.

Other PostDocs

Other postdoctoral positions are available for some more specific career choices.

Teaching PostDocs

These kinds of PostDocs are aimed at people who feel as though they did not get enough teaching experience during a graduate programme or would like to investigate teaching through scientific research and classroom practice. They are most often offered as a teaching fellowship.

Field-specific PostDocs

This PostDoctoral position trains someone for a particular profession and field, such as science policy or media communications. These fields do not necessarily require you to have a PostDoc to enter the profession, but it will provide a unique skillset and experience for the job. There are fellowships available for field-specific PostDocs to help support and encourage people to gain a better understanding of a field at a more advanced level

Self-made PostDocs

Self-made PostDocs simply means that a PhD student, or current PostDoc has reached out to companies and organisations directly and secured funding for a proposed project. The term self-made refers to the fact that a job opening or vacancy may not have been advertised, or even existed before these negotiations begun.


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