Postdoctoral Fellowships

A Postdoctoral Scholar has received a doctoral degree and accepted a temporary “training opportunity” to gain added research experience and prepare for a career in academe, industry, government or the non-profit sector (National Postdoctoral Association, 2009).

For many PhDs in the sciences, the postdoc is a career stage, positioned between a graduate research assistantship and a tenure track assistant professorship. Increasingly, however, postdoctoral fellowships also may be found in the humanities and social sciences. And, while the majority of postdocs engage in focused research activities, a limited number of “teaching postdocs” are available for those individuals looking to land a position at teaching-oriented institutions.

Typically, postdoctoral scholars work under the guidance and supervision of a faculty mentor or principal investigator (PI), are appointed for a temporary and limited period of time (six months to five years), and are expected to build an independent research program. In fact, most postdoctoral scholars are hired by PIs to work directly on grant-supported research.

However, recent initiatives by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health call for broader professional development opportunities to help young professionals develop the skills needed to advance their careers. In addition to building a research program and acquiring expanded research expertise, both the NSF and the National Postdoctoral Association suggest postdocs need to learn how to write grant proposals, manage people, develop research topics, strengthen communication skills, and develop other abilities that will help them in academic, government, industry, or other career paths (Postdoctoral Appointments: Policies and Practices, 2004).