A recent article was forwarded to me from ScienceCareers.org on careers for post-doctoral scientists
(”Careers for Postdoctoral Scientists: Beyond the Ivory Tower by Peter Gwynne; http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2006_10_27/careers_for_postdoctoral_scientists_beyond_the_ivory_tower
The article points out what one might anticipate as
one moves from an academic position to an industrial
one. It is not only for post-doctorals but for most
scientists in general. Let us focus on post-docs.
It is true that people with post doctoral experience
have a “leg up” on those without when applying for
industrial positions in certain fields, like pharmaceuticals
and biotech. Where the role of a post-doc can vary
from group to group, generally positions are more
research leadership oriented. This can involve
“supervising” some staff in the universities.
However, it is a general observation that this is not
like the supervision one needs to do in industry.
Many post-docs interviewing for industrial roles
wish to be a supervisor or a group head, when,
in fact, they have not had the breadth and depth
of supervision training that is required for industrial
roles. They have, for the most part, only had
some sense of technical leadership.
More often than not post-docs bring this mindset
into interviews and are surprised to discover their
post-doc role not being considered as managerial
In fact, when a post doc succeeds in being asked
to join a firm, it is quite possible that a supervisor
is assigned to assist in the transition to bring the
post-doc up to a fully contributing staff member.
It is not becasue of any lack of skills, it is because
of the difference in culture, pace, realities, and
practices. The Gwynne article introduces some
of these, using “quote bites” from a group of
The article points out two strong suggestions for
post-docs who wish to enter the industrial job market.
(1) strongly consider doing several informational
interviews with people who have done a post-doc,
interviewed and started an industrial position to learn
what it is like and if they like it. Consider this even
before doing a post-doc!
In other words, do a bit of long term career planning
three to five years out in time.
(2) have a good idea what it is like to work in your
selected companies. Prepare by, for example, using
your post-doctoral mentor for learning what the
company is like.
(A general observation is that post-docs don’t
make use of an extremely strong ally, their advisor,
enough when going for positions.)
For those who can take advantage, there is a useful
workshop offered at national ACS meetings that gives
a sense of many important things a recent new hire
should know early in their career. It is
“First Year on the Job.”