What Is a Postdoc?

What is a postdoc?

After finishing your Ph.D., you might be under the impression that things are finally over, right?

Well, for formal studies where you have to pass exams and defend your research, then absolutely!

However, studies pertaining to your growth and contribution to science and society, then that’s where this fancy word comes in — postdoc or postdoctoral. 

Here, I’ll explain what a postdoc or postdoctoral researcher is all about and what it means to be one.

Postdoc meaning

First and foremost, a postdoc is not a degree. 

Finishing your Ph.D. is the highest achievement you can get in the world of academia. 

After getting your Ph.D., it is mostly about using your expertise or making your acquired knowledge useful to society. 

However, if you plan on continuing your research in a university, then that’s where a postdoc comes in.

Postdoc or postdoctoral researcher is a given role to a Ph.D. graduate to advance his/her research or other related investigations. 

You can think of postdocs as privileged graduates that still have the opportunity to continue their studies while getting paid.

Yes. 

Most universities pay their postdocs via salary, stipend, or sponsorship award to continue what they do. 

In many cases, postdocs are primary candidates for university tenure positions. 

Why do postdoc projects exist? How are postdocs funded?

For starters, you have to understand that many support Ph.D. programs.

If the study benefits certain entities (company, government, etc.), then funding is likely to occur.

As long as the university/researchers share their findings with the investors, funding is almost always guaranteed.

It’s a win-win situation. 

The researcher gets to contribute to science, while the investors will use the acquired knowledge to develop or improve their product.

Very few investors will contribute just for the sake of it, so also keep that in mind. 

Now, some of these researches are exceptional and will get plenty of donations and sponsors. 

This situation will open doors of opportunity for talented Ph.D. graduates, allowing room for researchers to continue their investigation — and those filling these roles are postdocs. 

How many years is a postdoctoral position?

Postdoc positions are temporal at best.

The position typically lasts for about two to three years as that is enough to conclude the research.

For many countries and universities, a postdoc project will last for as long as there is funding.

So as long as investors keep on pouring money to continue the research, then the position will not cease. 

For countries like Sweden and Canada, they do pose a rule that postdocs can only continue their work for a maximum of five years.

Frequently asked questions

Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about postdocs.

Can you do a postdoc without a Ph.D.?

No. From the name itself, you cannot. 

Postdoc translates to “after doctorate studies,” hence any position beforehand is not a postdoc.

Postdoc positions require a Ph.D.

How hard is it to get a postdoc?

The hardest part about acquiring a postdoc is the sheer requirement it demands. 

You need to be a Ph.D. graduate!

The amount of time and effort it takes to get a Ph.D. is colossal — and that is no understatement.

Most people will get their Ph.D. degree by the age of 33. 

If you are talented enough and you have the funds and energy to continue studying non-stop, it will typically take eight years after high school.

Only very few were able to procure a Ph.D. before they hit 25 years old. 

Other than needing a Ph.D. degree, getting a postdoc position is competitive. 

Most of your competitors, if not all, are smart and dedicated. 

However, it’s still a case to case basis.

Sometimes, as long as you hold a Ph.D. and you’re in the right field of study, getting into a postdoc isn’t that challenging — especially when you have unique research.

In a nutshell, it depends on your field and how competitive it is.

Why is postdoc salary so low?

The reason why the salary for postdocs is low is complicated.

For starters, postdocs are not technically a job per se. 

It’s more of an opportunity to take advantage of the funding to improve yourself further and prepare to take on the role of a tenure-track professorship (the highest-level of educators).

On the other hand, although you are benefiting from the experience, you are also helping investors through your research. 

Other than that, there is a very high supply of Ph.D. graduates relative to the ongoing research available.

In many cases, research under hard sciences doesn’t have a lot of benefit to money-making industries. 

This situation discourages several investors from funding every research pitched to them. 

Thus, the investors have more control due to the limited number of in-demand research and surplus of postdoctoral researchers available.

Then why do Ph.D. graduates pursue a postdoc?

Other than for the sheer passion of doing what you love, postdoc positions will boost your knowledge, experience, and credential significantly. 

Postdoc research experience has more weight than Ph.D.

However, some Ph.D. programs can just be as valuable. 

The problem with Ph.D. programs is that, in most cases, it is often seen as a group effort rather than getting credit for individual contributions.

When you have experience in a postdoc, you will be an elite pick for research facilities and tenure-track professorship in universities. 

Bottom line

Getting yourself into a postdoc is all a matter of preference. You can get a high-paying job after completing your Ph.D. even without having any postdoc experience. 

Getting into a postdoc position will jumpstart your career as an expert in your field, giving you the confidence to advise professionally and demand a high salary. 

Is a postdoc necessary for success?

Certainly not.

Will it improve the odds of getting into your dream job while getting paid highly?

Yes.

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