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Post-doc vs. Fellowship


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I'm a 4th year doctoral candidate, with ~1 year left to finish my dissertation. 


I'm trying to decide my 5th year plan. On one hand, I can get a dissertation fellowship which allows me to work on research and nothing else for a year and then going on the job market. But there is an interesting post-doc position that opened but that I'm considering applying for. I don't know many post-docs, don't really know what the work is like. I'm speaking to the faculty in the post-doc position, what should I ask her about that would help me make the decision? (e.g., work load, teach load, research load, time to pursue my current ongoing projects, etc... )


And if you are a post-doc, what are some major differences between a post-doc and a graduate student? Also my adviser suggest that I take the fellowship and have an easy year. 

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I'm a post doc.



Benefits in no particular order:

1. One more year for your grad school work to go through the publication pipeline


2. A year to do just research and no courses/dissertation


3. New connections and letter writer.


4. [sometimes] learning new methodology.


5. A year to be on the job market.


Things to consider: Ask about teaching load and what she expects you to work on. Frankly, teaching is a time suck (especially a new prep). If you're grant funded, you might be very limited in what you can do and not have as much time to do what you want. But I don't think that being assigned specific work is always a bad thing... a post doc can be a good time to get exposed to a new research area with potential, as long as it can be integrated into your past work somehow when you're on the job market later. There's also some opportunity cost of switching labs where it takes a while to get up and running somewhere new.


Day-to-day my routine is very similar to when I was a grad student, though different research topics and more admin (e.g., some lab manager work, supervising the grad students). The pay's better too. If I had my choice I'd teach less--I teach two sections a year and one would leave more research time.

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Just out of curiosity, it seems like you're looking for what to do while you finish up your dissertation, since you're contrasting a dissertation fellowship with a post-doc. 


In general, post-doctoral positions require you to actually have your PhD, not be a candidate or ABD. I know at my school they can't hire someone for a post-doctoral position unless they are officially post-doctoral. 


If I misunderstood and you're looking at post-doctoral fellowships (NIH, teaching, etc) then the post-doctoral fellowship is in general more prestigious than a post-doctoral research position alone. 


It's very common in STEM fields to do a post-doc to beef up your research portfolio before going on the job market, or in parallel to going on the job market, but it's no an option that you usually contrast with a dissertation fellowship. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm a postdoc!  I love being a postdoc, I will advocate everyone do a postdoc forever and always.  It's MUCH better than being a graduate student, IMO.  Major differences:


1. "Quiet time" for you to focus completely on your research.  Whether that is your own research interests or the research of a PI you are assisting depends on the kind of postdoc you take, but there's no dissertation or other requirements hanging over your head.  This is heaven, trust me.  I'm working on getting my dissertation papers out and I am on the road to submitting three by January, which would've been unheard of for me in grad school.


2. Much more independence.  Your every move is not controlled by an advisor; you have a lot more freedom to determine what you want to do and how you will proceed.  (I mean, my advisor did not control my every move in grad school, but he does wield a lot of power in what you do and how you do it.  That's not the case in a postdoc.)


3. Most postdocs go to a new department or university and thus you have an entire new network of people.  This is really good on the job market, because more people have their ear to the ground for you but also more people are serving as recommenders.


4. Success in two place shows that you are not a fluke, but the genuine article who has managed to discover success in two places.


5. Given the heightened level of independence, you are more competitive on the market.  Search committees often wonder whether graduate students can operate independently of their mentors, and what the transition will be like for them.  Postdocs don't bring the same worries, because you have already demonstrated that you can break away from your graduate mentor and display your independence in fostering a new area of research.


6. Postdocs often have structured environments for you to learn to transition to independence, since that is what they are for.  For example, my postdoc so far has had a job market workshop, a couple of job panels, some methodology short courses.  In the spring we are having a grant development workshop.  Everyone submits at least one NIH grant.




I will add that taking a dissertation fellowship for a year can be similar to a postdoc, depending on how advanced in your diss you are and the resources you have available to you.  I have heard of doctoral students who were finished or nearly finished with the dissertation, who subsequently received a dissertation fellowship, basically "sit" on the dissertation for an extra year and publish the papers during that year while going on the market.  In fact, we just talked about that in one of the job panels I went to recently, and the professors acknowledged that it was a good strategy.  If you are pretty much done you can also use the fellowship year to learn a new skill or travel to some conferences to network. 


It really just depends on your priorities.  For me, I was on a doctoral fellowship that I could've extended for a 7th year of my program, if i wanted to.  But I super anxious to get away from my grad school and grad school city, and the postdoc I was offered allows me the opportunity to meet new people and learn some sophisticated new statistical techniques, so I took it.  And Oh my gosh, I sleep at night.  I haven't gotten so much sleep since I started graduate school 6 years ago.




Two more points:


1. I agree with Eigen.  I am assuming that you are advanced in your dissertation - almost done - and at the decision point of whether to finish quickly and move into a postdoc, or take a diss fellowship and "sit" on it for a year.  But if you are just beginning your dissertation and won't be done, do note that postdocs require you to have defended first, and will often require a letter from your department saying that you have completed all of the requirements of the PhD other than depositing the dissertation.  When I started my postdoc, I had just defended but not deposited, and it was clear that I was expected to finish my revisions very quickly so I could deposit the dissertation and have it off my plate.  And I actually had to push my start date back, because my committee was not available for my defense on the original planned date (even though I was finished and ready).


2. These days, it is getting increasingly difficult in psychology for a person to get a faculty position without a postdoc, particularly at R1 institutions.  I've been browsing a lot of CVs these days, and I am hard-pressed to find any recently hired faculty members at top research universities who didn't do a postdoc before they were hired.  I've seen that even people at top teaching colleges and regional doctoral-level (but not R1 and R2) institutions have done postdocs before getting appointed to a faculty position.  If you look at smaller teaching colleges and regional master's or baccalaureate level colleges and universities, many of the professors there still came straight from undergrad - but many did not!  If you have any aspirations at all towards an R1 or R2 research institution, you'll be far more competitive if you do a postdoc.  And even if you don't, you'll still be more competitive with a postdoc.

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