How Postdoctoral Admissions Works

Types of Postdoctoral Positions

There are approximately 89,000 postdocs in the United States, working in everything from space exploration to ocean science to historical research [source: National Postdoctoral Association]. If you're like the vast majority of these postdocs, you're in your early 30s, and you probably have a spouse and a few children [source: Lee]. More than likely, you're also going to end up working in one of two places:

  • Non-profit or government research institution: These are study-focused institutions not directly linked to a university. Examples include the National Institute of Health, the Heart and Stroke Foundation or the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.
  • University: Working under a mentor, you'll assist with research, pursue your own research or even be called upon to lead lectures and tutorials.

Traditionally, postdoctoral positions have not been known for their employment perks. Treated as quasi-interns, postdocs rarely received employee benefits or recognition [source: Lee]. However, the growing build-up of postdocs in longer term positions is spurring a move towards greater employment security. In the near future, more and more institutions are expected to start offering healthcare and other employment benefits to their postdocs [source: NPA: Accomplishments]. Be aware of the type of employment benefits offered by your postdoctoral choice.

Also, don't be afraid to think internationally. Especially if you're coming from a small country with few postdoctoral options, it may be to consider moving to the United States or Europe to do your postdoctoral work [source: Ng]. Moving to a different country, of course, introduces its own set of challenges. You'll need to obtain a work visa and arrange for other basic living necessities. Fortunately, many institutions offer advice and services for their international postdocs. For international postdocs coming to the United States, the National Postdoctoral Association provides an entire handbook of helpful tips [source: NPA: International].

Of course, before you start shimmying up the academic ladder, you can always consider taking up a postdoctoral job or fellowship in the private sector. Even if you don't enter an industry that matches your field of study, your stay in academia has still given you a valuable tool chest of skills that you could use in other industries [source: Ng]. At the very least, during your doctoral dissertation you've likely learned to lead a group, manage a complex project and work a computer -- three skills that should automatically giving you a leg-up for private sector employment. Depending on where you look, private sector jobs may tend to be more administrative than study-oriented, but you'll likely be assured a much higher level of job security [source: Ng]. Also, in certain fields, returning to academia after working in the private sector can be quite difficult, so that should be another factor to consider if you think it might be a temporary decision.

Now that you've got a good idea of what's out there, keep reading to see about finding a postdoc position that's right for you.