For students staring down the finish line of a Ph.D., there is an array of future career paths. Full-time employment. Academia.
And, of course, postdoctoral fellowships.
Postdoctoral fellowships may not always be a student’s primary choice, but a postdoc position can certainly offer advantages for both students and employers. It’s an option that Ph.D. graduates can use to transition into future academic or other career roles.
There are a variety of institutions that offer postdoc opportunities, ranging from universities, to government agencies, to non-profits, NGOs and industry employers. Each avenue offers different opportunities and advantages, but for our purposes of economic stimulation here at Frederick CREST, we’ll focus mainly on industry postdocs.
From both a student and employer perspective, industry postdocs offer valuable opportunities.
The Benefits of Postdocs for Students
So, why would a student consider pursuing a postdoc opportunity instead of pursuing regular employee status in industry? The main benefit – reflected in a variety of different ways – is in the offer of new learning and experience.
1. Postdocs offer opportunities to learn new skills.
There is a good deal of hands-on learning required to complete a Ph.D., but often, the work completed in pursuit of a degree is limited in directional scope.
Postdocs can offer avenues to learn new skills that have real-world application – new techniques, technologies, and approaches that will increase an individual’s value in the workplace. Additionally, postdocs represent an opportunity to pivot into new and different industries that students may not have had a chance to pursue in their previous education.
A postdoc can offer the possibility of taking your newly minted knowledge and applying it in a completely different way – for example, taking drug development experience into health policy, or gene regulation into toxicology.
Importantly, working in industry provides a chance to experience the very different priorities at play in the commercial sector, and an opportunity to play by a different rule book. Typically, industry is much more structured (e.g., schedule and budget), controlled, and directed; it’s seldom a sandbox. There tends to be significant oversight and accountability (e.g., meeting definitive milestones), and one is expected to be professional.
As a temporary employee who is essentially an apprentice, a postdoc may be afforded some latitude, but it will also provide better insight to judge if these conditions are a good fit.
All in all, a postdoc represents the possibility of greatly enhancing a student’s skillset and breadth of experience to potentially pursue an entirely new field while determining if commercial demands are suitable.
2. Postdocs offer the opportunity for mentorship in the context of the commercial sector.
A firmly anchored in the world of commerce is a different prospect than one focused on scholarly pursuits (as past academic advisors may have been).
The industry supervisor will focus your talents on promoting the interests of the company. There will be new ways of executing projects – they may seem superficial or haphazard, but industry is most focused on first establishing feasibility at a 10,000-foot level, given that the idea is first deemed worth pursuing at all (read: marketable).
Ideas that seem brilliant may be rejected for reasons of salability, marketability, or propriety. Again, this provides a chance to test-drive how one will cope (or thrive) in this environment.
Your mentor will hopefully also help you navigate the company culture and politics, potential minefields that can be difficult to negotiate on one’s own. As a postdoc however, one has a designated and dedicated counselor, a distinct advantage over walking into a commercial position cold. Hopefully your mentor will provide a wealth of knowledge, inspiration, and advice, and provide an example of how to succeed in business,
Additionally, as we’ve written before, relationships are integral in influencing career paths in industry. Working with a mentor offers the chance to form valuable connections on personal and professional levels that can benefit a recent grad’s career for years to come.
Industry post-docs can also offer the possibility of meeting influential leaders and scientists outside the company – for example, members of the board, venture capitalists, IP attorneys, outside consultants, and contractors. These are all potentially valuable contacts for future career development.
3. Postdocs offer a transition from academia.
Finally, industry postdocs offer a pivot point from academia.
For recent graduates considering a career path in industry, this is a big opportunity. There’s nothing like real world experience to increase a candidate’s value in the eyes of prospective employers – and many times, that experience is impossible to find inside the strict confines of the academic world.
Industry postdocs are a good stepping stone. Recent graduates can use them to continue their training and even as platforms to continue publishing work, but they’ll be supplementing academic learning with real world experience. Additionally, these positions are often not-so-stealth mechanisms for employers to test-drive a prospective employee candidate.
An industry post-doc is basically an extended job interview. Treat it accordingly.
Even if it does not result in the perfect permanent job, it offers great prospects for future jobs, important knowledge, and valuable contacts and references.
How Frederick CREST Can Help Students with Postdoc Opportunities
If you’re a STEM Ph.D. student considering looking into postdoc opportunities, Frederick CREST can help. We can work with you to help you find and define relevant areas of study, and then put our network of contacts to use to help find a great fit.
The Benefits of Postdocs for Employers
Postdocs aren’t just great opportunities for students; they can also provide a multitude of benefits for employers.
1. Postdocs offer access to talent with fresh skills and academic contacts.
Postdocs also provide employers with access to newly-minted skills.
Postdocs, after all, are recent Ph.D. graduates – and their newly-minted education is valuable. They haven’t been in the industry for decades, no. But they have fresh eyes. They’ve been taught the most up-to-date research methods and techniques. They’ve studied recent trends and are familiar with the latest research. They can offer the fresh, objective perspective of an outsider while bringing new skills to bear.
So, while a postdoc is a learning opportunity for the participant, it can also be a chance for employers to learn things, too.
2. Postdocs offer access to cost-effective labor.
Perhaps the first benefit that will come to mind for employers is cost efficiency.
The reality of postdocs is that, while they are often full-time and paid, they’re generally at a cost that’s lower than what would be required to hire a traditional employee. Postdoc participants get access to valuable mentorship and learning opportunities; employers get access to labor at a reduced cost.
Because of that, projects are more likely to get done. Every company has a bevy of projects lined up on the backburner that they haven’t had the bandwidth or resources to dive into. Postdocs offer the chance to do that in a cost-efficient way.
3. Postdocs offer production with little risk.
Finally, postdocs offer opportunity for production with little risk.
That’s mainly based on their temporal nature and lower labor cost. There’s a lot of risk involved with hiring a full-time employee; according to HR.com, 46% of new hires fail within 18 months, resulting in thousands of dollars lost in terms of training, onboarding, and more. Even that doesn’t take into account
The risk is reduced with postdocs, because less is required to make them successful. They’re more cost-efficient, and the timeframe is inherently limited. Accordingly, post-docs can be assigned riskier projects. So longer shot prospects can be explored, functionally allowing the company to potentially exploit high-risk ideas and prospects.
Consequently, while there is much for employers to gain through a postdoc, there is also less to lose.
How Frederick CREST Can Help Employers with Postdoc Opportunities
If you’re considering implementing a postdoc program at your company, get in touch with us. At Frederick CREST, we can help organizations get started by:
- Working with them to determine standards of performance
- Coordinating the logistics of programs (insurance, candidate requirements, etc.)
- Assisting with recruitment through our network of contacts
Start Your Postdoc Journey
Postdocs can be win-win opportunities for recent graduates and employers. Whether you’re considering a postdoc opportunity as a student or looking to implement a postdoc program as an employer, let’s talk.
The growth of Frederick is built on win-win connections between academia and industry. And at Frederick CREST, we’re here to help.