Before you start your post doctoral journey with your freshly minted PhD degree, do keep in mind about the points raised in this article. This is not to scare potential post docs. This is merely to appraise them of the many other less ventured avenues outside academics, which could be equally if not many time more rewarding.
Post doctoral positions are generally sought after, by fresh or mid-career doctorates. Many early stage researcher leave for greener pastures, in search for a better life. Realities of post doc careers are quite harsh than perceived. Poor working conditions with benefits offered, puts off many, from staying in research field, in the later years. Many leave their science career completely, due to lack of suitable avenues after completing post-doc.
There have been fierce debates on this subject, and from time to time, several articles have appeared in leading journals and bulletins all over the world. Overall, the condition of post doc has somewhat improved over the last two decade or so, in the developed nations due to increasing awareness. During the same time, many other post doc associations in the university and at national level came into existence. However, the mentality of those occupying high chairs with practicality of funding remained unchanged. Post docs, remains poorly paid till today. The reality is that the salary paid is, many a time, lower than that of a “janitor” in a university!! They work on short contracts with no guarantee on job, face retribution and ever-increasing challenges to survive in research per se from year to year. ‘Perform or perish’- remains their motto, forever, though the word used i.e. ‘performance’ is somewhat dodgy and never well defined. 2. Understanding post doc Post Docs belong to a hard working race and their poor working condition exists, which might throw an average industrial worker into severe industrial action. Yet, they face day-to-day apathy in their working conditions. They work, 24 X 7 hours a day, 365 days a year with hardly an off time taken. Further, they have ill-defined work responsibilities (Also see, Singer, 2004). They are highly educated; they hop around the continents in no time and are willing workers. Most of them are multi-tasking too and a very high standard is expected from their work [See, Website 2]. The notion behind Post Doc is that a young doctorate needs more time and experience to mature into a full-fledged scientist. It may involve working in multiple projects. Post docs positions are considered temporary, however, number of such positions is getting lesser by the day and duration is shrinking [Website 3]. The agony is that, in developed world, many faculty members keep hanging on even in their late 70s or work until death, which means the younger lot has to wait for a long, long time, sometimes into their late 40’s and early 50’s too! This makes a post doc helpless to change for better. Further, the avenues available in research are quite constricted compared to many other professions. It’s also true, that increasing number of people are joining higher education and many of them, desire for a career in research ( Benderly, 2005). This makes the situation even worse in the over-crowded science market. There could be many reasons why a person wants to be a researcher. One of them could be a feel good factor – to do something novel and it could be, many are dazzled by the life style of the professors or directors. These people hop around the world, give big lectures and earn handsome rewards from the patents they file, may be on behalf of their staff scientists, who may not get the credit as should be. Its almost like a mirage, the distant world seems to like a heaven. While, the practicality is entirely different. The life style of a full-fledged professor is different from a graduate student or a post doc…………………….
Adapted from an old article written by me available online: http://www.postdocjournal.com/archives/515/dreams-and-reality-is-the-grass-always-greener-on-the-other-side-.htm