27 Oct 2017

Being Postdoc [the first four months]

Today I’m taking a sick day, because I’ve got that nasty freshers’ flu. Am trying to beat it before it knocks me down completely. That gives me a little bit of time to reflect on my first months as a postdoc:

What is a “postdoc”?

As a PhD student, I was paid to do research but was still a student. Being a postdoc is just on the other side of that professional line, where I still do research and get paid but I’m no longer a student, although what I actually do from day to day hasn’t changed that much. Still a lot of planning research, conducting research, attending talks, reading articles. And although my work hasn’t changed much, actually because my work hasn’t changed much, I’ve gotten much better at it!

From being independent to working in a team 

My PhD was my own project, and while my supervisor gave excellent guidance, I decided a lot of things and ran the research largely independently. Now my Postdoc position is in a bigger research group made up of 1 PI, 2 postdocs (although 1 hasn’t started yet), and 3 PhDs. It’s pretty exciting to have that new teamwork experience.

Working in a team might eventually present challenges, but for the moment it’s fun to figure out how we can all divide the work that needs doing before we start the study and then how to coordinate our identical methods across 3 species and 4 study groups. So far, we’re doing a good job at communicating with one another, and that’s going to be key as the project progresses.

Our office all set up and ready for the big project planning meeting

Finishing up papers

One of the trickier parts of starting a postdoc is finding time to finish older projects. I still have two chapters of my PhD thesis to publish. But planning the fun new stuff often takes precedent to finishing those old papers. This is totally something that I need to just make time for – in fact, I’ve found that blocking out a day for “Paper x” is the best way to ensure I work on it. And then making sure that once coauthors respond with their comments, that I schedule another day to work on the paper.

There’s a lot of planning and discipline that goes into navigating a postdoc.. I recently introduced a friend to the phrase "it's like herding cats". It was in reference to trying to get PhD students to all show up to the same place at the same time (LOL), but I sometimes think about my multiple projects as cats that need herding too.

Finding other postdocs in the department

I started my postdoc in July and the middle of the summer is a tricky time to meet people. Once term started and all of the PhD students were having their welcome events, it was much easier to piggy back into the Early Career Researcher group. But it’s still been hard to find other postdocs. For some reason, we’re just not a very visible group in the department. No-one that I’ve asked has known the exact number of postdocs, but estimate around 20-30. I think I’ve met about 7.

That’s fine though, because the inbetweeny postdoc stage has allowed me to meet PhD and staff and faculty friends. It would just be nice for future postdocs if there was a better way of welcoming and inviting them to events. Maybe that’s something for me to work on.


All in all, I’ve enjoyed these first few months. Some days are really hectic and there are a lot of things to organise. But it’s a really fun job and I do love organising, so that’s not too much of a hardship. And the best part of being a postdoc is that I don’t have a thesis looming at the end of this contract. Just a lot of papers!

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