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How important is a postdoc to career progression?

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How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby H.L.F. » Wed Apr 08, 2015 6:54 am

I might have the opportunity to skip the position of postdoc and go straight into an industry scientist position in Big Pharma. Assuming I want to make a career in the science track of pharmaceutical companies, is there a down side to skipping a postdoc? Will it limit my opportunities later on or negatively affect my career advancement? One colleague thinks that it might hurt my future career progression, but I would like to get others’ opinions.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby H.L.F. » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:02 am

Sorry, I had an issue with my account that caused the question to be posted twice under two user names. I have moved Rich Lemert’s reply to the correct thread. Sorry for the confusion this might have caused.

From Rich Lemert:

Has your colleague explained just why skipping the postdoc would hurt your career?

A postdoc should bean optional opportunity for someone to pick up skills they didn't get during their PhD. What it's become is a holding zone to control the rate of people moving into academic positions.

The one caveat I would suggest is that you confirm that this is a true PhD scientist position. If it's one of those technician wrapped in scientist clothing positions that a certain company is known for, then that would indeed be a career-limiting move.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby H.L.F. » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:24 am

Thanks for the reply Rich! I am not talking about a specific position. I have a contact/former colleague who is now in a senior position in Big Pharma. On multiple occasions, this person has said that they would very much like me to work for them when I finish up my PhD. I have a high level of independence in my current position, have a track record of securing financing for my own projects and have managed a (small) number of masters students and technicians. This person is aware of my track record and capabilities. Looking at postdocs in the same organization who studied similar topics using similar methods, I have many more publications, all of which are in respectable journals.

Based on these facts, I was planning on proposing that I transition straight into a scientist position rather than an industry postdoc. Of course, there's always the chance that the person will scoff at my suggestion, but I am relatively confident that my proposal would be accepted.

However, when I was talking with a colleague about this, she thought that skipping a postdoc could disadvantage me later on. The explanation is that a postdoc is seen as a necessary step and skipping it might suggest that I lack some sort of training. Basically, it might unnecessarily prejudice some people against my candidacy in the future.

I am aware of the overall plight of postdocs and would rather avoid being underpaid on temp contracts, but if it's somehow necessary for future positions...

I posted the question to see what others thought.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby PG » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:39 am

In my view the main value of doing a postdoc is that it shows independence from your PhD supervisor. It is possible for a PhD supervisor to in perform all planning of studies included in a thesis and sometimes a technician may help with performing experiments ( I have seen examples when the actual PhD student has done very little). This rarely happens during a postdoc since the postdoc supervisor typically have invested a lot less in the postdoc than the PhD supervisor has done in the student when it is discovered that it might have been a less than ideal recruitment.

Independence from the PhD supervisor can also be shown by for example being successful in a position with a company. Personally I did not do any postdoc training. I was recruited to a startup company before my PhD was completed and didnt complete it until a couple of years later (on time payed by the company). So far noone has brought this up as an issue in interviews and I have been contacted about positions in multiple different countries including several countries in Europe and Asia as well as in the US indicating that not having a postdoc in my CV doesnt seem to be hurting me.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Apr 08, 2015 9:41 am

Down the road, hiring managers aren't going to be looking back at "did you complete this check mark before you got a real position? No? Too bad." They're going to look at what you did in your latest position.

I don't care how much 'training' you have, you should always be able to learn new skills in any position you take - and you'll always enter that position lacking some skills or knowledge. You'll learn just as much as a full-time scientist as you would as a 'trainee' - and you'll be that far ahead of the game in your career.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby RSD » Wed Apr 08, 2015 12:53 pm

I completely agree with Rich's posts.

Postdoctoral positions are for additional training, and should be done only if needed to attain future positions. If you have the skills and qualifications for the permanent position I see no need to do a postdoc.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby PG » Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:37 pm

For any position that you consider I believe that you should consider what positives/negatives that it will bring to your career progression. This of course needs to be done in connection with looking at other factors (you may need a position for financial reasons, it might be a really good company to work for, you need to relocate for family reasons etc).

I cant see any case when a training position would be better than a regular position after completion of your PhD. This is assuming that the position is a position that is actually intended for someone who has a PhD and not a position intended for a technician.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby H.L.F. » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:51 am

Thanks for all of the replies. My gut agrees with the sentiment echoed here: If one can skip a postdoc and land a PhD level scientist position right after graduation, one should.
However, everyone (n=3) who I have asked in person has said the opposite. While they are all in academia, two of them previously held scientist/sr scientist positions in industry in the US. They seem to think that a nontraditional career trajectory post PhD might slow down my long term career progression. More of a short term gain, long term loss scenario.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby PG » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:02 am

That is interesting. Did they have any arguments for why a postdoc would be better for your later career than a real position? I just cant see any reason for why that would be the case.
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Re: How important is a postdoc to career progression?

Postby WG » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:22 am

They seem to think that a nontraditional career trajectory post PhD might slow down my long term career progression. More of a short term gain, long term loss scenario.


As someone who will be doing a postdoc I find this very confusing. How would it be a "long term loss scenario"? You can use the postdoc stage to venture into a new field but that can also happen in a job. Even in academia there are people who got tenure track jobs without postdoc stage, they are few but it happens. I am also as puzzled as the previous poster P.G.
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