What Is Postdoctoral Research? (Definition and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 29, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Postdoctoral fellowships provide excellent opportunities to develop skills and gain experience for future employment. Postdoctoral research, also known as a postdoctoral fellowship or postdoc, helps individuals advance their education after obtaining their doctorates. Understanding postdoctoral fellowships can help you decide if pursuing a postdoc is suitable for your career growth. In this article, we define postdoctoral research, explore the importance of postdoctoral fellowships, discover various benefits of a postdoc, and answer a few frequently asked questions.

What is postdoctoral research?

Postdoctoral research positions focus on training individuals who have earned their doctorate. Postdoctoral fellows perform duties, such as researching, teaching, organizing conferences, planning seminars, hosting academic workshops, and following personal educational ambitions. Individuals planning to work in academia, government, or industry can take advantage of postdoctoral training as an opportunity to hone technical skills, develop independence, and focus on research interests. During postdoc research, individuals receive access to world-class facilities and expert mentors to assist them in performing research studies that generate high-quality publications.

Postdoctoral fellowships are professional positions with taxable salaries, but they aren't careers. A postdoc research fellow is typically under a short-term contract that rarely lasts longer than six years. A postdoc is a trainee working towards a future full-time career. The average salary of a postdoctoral fellow is $50,436 per year. A postdoctoral fellowship typically lasts two to three years, but it depends on the type of research project, organization, university, funding, and principal investigator. The principal investigator directs the research project both intellectually and logistically. There are four types of post doc research:

  • Academic: The primary aim of a postdoctoral position in academia is to develop research and academic experience. Postdoctoral fellows have more freedom in choosing the direction of their research than students in doctoral programs.

  • Industry: An industry postdoc may include working in pharmaceuticals, taking part in scientific entrepreneurship, or studying at a biotech company. Many industry postdocs prioritize teamwork while valuing independent thinking and development.

  • Government: Through government postdocs, individuals with doctoral degrees can work with research groups or leaders in government laboratories and research institutions across the country. It's an opportunity to work on projects of critical importance to government-based facilities alongside multidisciplinary teams of experts.

  • Non-profit: Postdoctoral fellowships can take place at a non-profit organization, rather than at a university. Non-profit postdoctoral positions can cover a range of topics, including food and nutrition, sports management, and biomedical research.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

Why are postdoctoral fellowships important?

A postdoctoral fellowship is important because it extends and deepens the postdoc's scientific and technical abilities in the doctoral field or in a different field. Postdoctoral positions give researchers a unique opportunity to show their originality, creativity, and productivity, which can be essential to their success in future research careers. Research is the focus of most postdoctoral positions, but there are also opportunities in specialized areas, such as technology and policy, which allow individuals to expand their expertise and develop an interest in new areas of study.

Related: How to Write an Academic CV That Helps You Stand Out

Benefits of postdoctoral fellowship

Here are a variety of benefits to postdoctoral fellowships:

  • Provides mentors: Principal investigators act as mentors who supervise postdoc fellows to help their scholarly growth and development. Having a mentor with expertise can help you achieve proficiency for a rewarding career.

  • Improves soft skills: Listing industry-relevant skills and experience can be a key component of an outstanding job application. Experience in a postdoctoral position can improve soft skills, such as professional ethics, teamwork, innovation, and creativity.

  • Expands networks: Attending conferences as a postdoctoral fellow is a great way to network and communicate with recruiters, speakers, and attendees. You may also take part in seminars and workshops where you can ask questions about various research projects and take part in discussions about different career paths.

  • Extends knowledge: Postdocs allow you to reflect on your current skills and your future goals. You can cultivate your level of independence, collaboration skills, and learn about the effects of different management styles.

  • Refines resume: Your resume can benefit from having experience in the industry. You can highlight the accomplishments you have made, such as having industry partnerships, publishing articles, and working for accomplished companies or organizations.

Related: How to Write an Academic Resume (With Tips and a Template)

Postdoctoral fellowship FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about postdocs:

What are the primary responsibilities of a principal investigator?

A principal investigator, also known as a lead researcher or PI, handles research preparation, administrative duties, grant proposals, fellowship contracts, and training sessions. The PI is primarily responsible for directing the overall research study and guiding postdoctoral fellows. Principal Investigators oversee the research activities of all students and staff, ensuring they're aware of and abide by the terms and conditions of the facility's policies and procedures.

What jobs are available after a postdoc?

Here are some career paths you may decide to pursue after taking part in a postdoctoral fellowship:

  • Science policy analyst: Policy sciences examine the decision-making process and evaluate the importance of knowledge in solving specific problems.

  • Science writer: A science writer researches, writes, edits, and produces news, articles, and features for businesses, trade publications, technical journals, television, and blogs.

  • Medical liaison: Medical liaisons establish and maintain peer-to-peer relationships with leading academic institutions and clinics leading physicians or key opinion leaders (KOLs).

  • Researcher: Researchers assist with research projects as part of accomplishing specific objectives, including defining research objectives, establishing methods, and setting budgets for an organization.

  • Grant administrator: Grant administrators manage all aspects of grant requests for their employer, including setting deadlines for proposals, ensuring the research projects comply with policy and procedure standards, and keeping a record of funding sources and grant candidates.

  • Professor: In most countries, professors are the highest academic position at universities, colleges, and research institutes.

  • Pharmaceuticals: Throughout the pharmaceutical industry, great professionals are developing and distributing a variety of products and services, from lab scientists discovering new drugs to pharmacists selling to the public.

Related: What Is a Physician?

How do postdoctoral fellows gain funding?

Postdocs typically receive funding from supervisory grants. Some additional sources of funding for postdocs include scholarships and awards. Many postdoctoral fellows receive funding from the Tri-Council agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). There are also provincial research funding agencies, such as Alberta Innovates, that provide support for postdocs. Some international funding agencies support postdocs as part of their projects abroad, and some specialized organizations offer funds for postdocs in specific fields.

Where can you find a postdoc position?

Postdocs can find positions in a variety of ways. For example, you can find postdoc listings on job boards, mailing lists, or university job websites. Networking is another way to find positions. You may present your resume to a supervisor, experienced lecturer, or lead researcher at a conference or networking event.

How can you prepare for a postdoctoral fellowship interview?

The following are some tips for preparing for a postdoc interview:

  • Prepare answers: A good way to prepare for a postdoc interview is to come up with a list of questions that you think may arise during the interview and practice giving different answers.

  • Ask for feedback: While thinking through your questions and answers, you may ask friends or professors for feedback. You can also ask supervisors who have previously gone through the process of a postdoc because they're able to offer valuable feedback about your answers.

  • Plan questions: An important part of postdoctoral training is making sure the position is right for both of you, which requires asking questions. If the PI who's interviewing you can understand your goals and expectations, you may achieve success more easily.

  • Do research: To familiarize yourself with the lab, you can read about the current members and their previous experiences. You can also look at a few of the lab's recent publications and note which members are part of which projects to familiarize yourself with the faculty.

  • Plan your outfit: Planning your outfit before the interview can help you feel more comfortable and prepared.

  • Follow-up: An important part of the interview process extends beyond the initial interview. Emailing the PI to thank them for their time and express your interest in the position can be very beneficial because it shows professionalism and gratitude.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's ‌experience, ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.

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