I don’t remember when I first realized there was something else I might have to do after my PhD, but before I got an actual job academic job. And though I now know what a postdoc is, and that I might have to do one, a lot about postdocs remains shrouded in mystery. As one on the topic notes – being a postdoc is like existing in “some kind of institutional purgatory” and numerous Google searches haven’t been terribly illuminating. One common element to many of the blog posts and articles on postdocs that I’ve read, however, is a certain negativity that is common to disenchanted academics. Some titles I’ve come across include: “The Postdoc: A Special Kind of Hell” , “Before Professor Comes Postdoc: Lower Career Rung, Just as Much Job Stress” and “The Postdoc Experience: High Expectations, Grounded in Reality”
What I have gleaned substantively is that there is no set definition for what a post-doctoral position actually is, and the importance varies from discipline to discipline as well as country to country. Moreover, what you do in the postdoc may be somewhat dependent on what you did during your PhD – for example, if you did not produce enough publications, you may spend some time publishing work from your dissertation. Another important distinction is if your postdoc position is part of a larger research project, or essentially just funding for you to do your own research (and perhaps a bit of teaching).
However, a survey of postdoc positions identified some common characteristics: the recent completion of a PhD prior to the postdoc position; the position is temporary; the appointment involves substantial research, with a goal towards further training; there is an expectation that work will be published; and the postdoc works under the supervision of a senior scholar.
How to get one
Just like applying for a PhD programme, you have to identify an appropriate supervisor (or mentor, as they are apparently called) and think about how your potential project can contribute both to the discipline and your own career. However, it’s not exactly the same application process, but more like some kind of job-PhD application hybrid . Finally, from everything I’ve read it seems like it won’t ever be too early to start thinking about a postdoc – if you can bear to devote any energy to this while in the middle of PhD research.
Of course, I feel like I’ve just started my PhD research, so I’m certainly not in a position to give advice on how to get a postdoc position. Instead, I’ve compiled a few links with advice and observations from people who are more qualified than I am to be talking about this (one caveat – for some reason, most of what’s written on postdocs is from the natural sciences, although I can’t imagine it’s too different for IR/poli sci):
A good run down of some overall postdoc-related issues.
What do you actually enjoy doing? Is a postdoc a a valid lifestyle choice?
When do PhD students apply for a postdoc position? Seems to vary whether you are in the US or Europe, resulting in differently timed peaks in stress levels.
Some thoughts on how to get a postdoc by an IR lecturer (beware: also contains totally unnecessary reminder that now is not a good time to be getting a PhD)
And how to get out if things are going badly.
And, finally, although this is about academic jobs generally and not post-docs, it’s probably good advice.
Are you a postdoc in IR (or a related field)? Have some advice or experiences to share? It would be great to hear from you!