Most people who choose a post-doctoral research position are Ph.D. graduates in the science and engineering fields. A 1995 study by the National Science Foundation found that 41.3 percent of recent U.S. Ph.D. graduates in all science and engineering fields were in postdocs. Physics had the highest rate of recent graduates in postdocs (72.9 percent), and biological sciences had the second-highest (71 percent). While fields like physics, biology and chemistry have the most graduates entering postdocs, more graduates from some other fields have been choosing postdocs, too: In 2001, 18 percent of social science graduates, 17 percent of math and computer science graduates, and 12 percent of engineering graduates entered postdocs, which would have been unheard-of in previous decades [source: NSF/CPST/Professional Societies Workshop].
While most people who earn doctorate degrees will go on to work in their field, the ways to do so are almost limitless. A person with a Ph.D. can teach, do research, work for the government or private industry, or even become a writer in his or her field. The Sigma Xi Survey of 7,600 postdocs found that most were looking for jobs at research universities (85.3 percent), followed by industry jobs (64.7 percent) and government jobs (52.2 percent) [source: Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey]. The research experience you gain during a postdoc is an essential part of building your resume if you want to get a tenure-track position at a research university [source: Trower].
While you should do a postdoc if you want a tenure-track position at a research university or a government research job, some jobs don't require a postdoc. Although it depends on your field of study and the specific job you're looking for, some teaching positions at liberal arts universities, consulting work, or publishing and communications jobs may not require a postdoc. You should discuss your career options in-depth with your faculty advisor early on in your graduate studies. While a postdoc is necessary for some career tracks, it can be an unnecessary expense for others.
Why would a postdoc be considered expensive? The answer is because of the big difference in pay between postdocs and their peers in the outside workplace -- the median salary in 2001 for recent Ph.D. graduates in all fields was $33,000 for postdocs and $62,000 for non-postdocs [source: NSF/CPST/Professional Societies Workshop]. So, while you should consider a postdoc if it's important for your career goals, going straight to the workplace might give you a jumpstart on paying back those student loans.
Just where does the money come from for your postdoc salary? Read on to learn about postdoc funding.