Postdoctoral research

Planning the next step in your career 

Seeking a postdoctoral fellowship should begin a year before you graduate. You may need to arrange a visa. You will need to ensure that you are adhering to the rules set by funding agencies. After securing a grant or position, continue to watch for funding opportunities that could help your CV and allow you to extend your fellowship. Throughout your time as a postdoc, volunteer for tasks that can help you develop new skills.


A group of researchers sit outside on the steps of a building on McGill's downtown campus

Around the time you complete your PhD

If you would like to do a postdoctoral fellowship (PDF), start thinking about potential supervisors and projects a year before you expect to complete your PhD. Ask your supervisor for help in setting up contacts. 

If you think you might like to complete a PDF in another country, start looking into visa requirements as soon as possible.

Make sure you are familiar with Canada’s Tri-Council funding agencies’ official rules for PDF awards. These may change from year to year, so check their websites regularly.

Don’t lose touch with your PhD supervisor(s); they can be a valuable source of advice and will most probably provide a reference for you in the future.

The postdoc-supervisor relationship

Supervisor-postdoc relationships have a significant effect on productivity and the overall experience of a postdoctoral fellow (Scaffidi & Berman, 2011). With this in mind, choose a supervisor with whom you feel comfortable and who is supportive of your research and career choices.

Some supervisors might be reluctant to support your attendance at transferable skills training workshops because they feel time away from the lab is wasted time (Phillips, 2010). Take the time to talk to your supervisor about the importance of additional skill training and push for time to attend such workshops. Consider attending SKILLSETS workshops such as Would You Fund ItDigital LiteracyLearning To Teach events, and TA Training.

During your postdoctoral fellowship

Keep up to date about what funding opportunities are available in your field, be they from the Canadian Tri-Council or from private funding bodies. Salaried fellowships and travel awards are important for your CV.

Most PDFs are planned to be one year in duration but often extend to two or three years. Be mindful from the beginning about what you want to accomplish in your PDF in the short term and the long term. In Quebec, it is important to remember that you may only be a postdoc for up to 5 years after the award of your PhD degree.

Work with your supervisor to ensure that you have room for professional growth. For example, ask to supervise an undergraduate student project or offer to play a more active role in grant writing.

Work with others to establish collaborations outside of your host university. PDFs are highly mobile and it is extremely useful to have connections, academic or otherwise, around the world. These connections can be invaluable when deciding what comes next.

What comes after your postdoc?

If you are a postdoc, there is no magic "line on the CV" that can conjure up a job immediately. An Individual Development Plan (IDP) can help you identify areas for professional growth and set specific goals for your career. 


What is your goal in pursuing a postdoc? 

Comprehensive postdoctoral training programs can offer measurable benefits in terms of productivity and later career success (Rybarczyk, Lerea, Lund, Whittington, & Dykstra, 2011). Although the 2009 Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars (CAPS-ACSP) survey suggests that more postdoctoral researchers want career training courses than have access to them, McGill's SKILLSETS program includes a great many workshops designed to offer training in transferable and career-related skills.

Phillips (2010) suggested that postdoctoral fellows tend to be unaware of the financial value of their research and would benefit if universities offered what he calls "enterprise training" to help them capitalize on their work in the private sector, given the lack of academic jobs and the security and salary they entail. For many scholars, commercial opportunities are far from their goals, and much of the discourse about postdoctoral research in the media (e.g., The Chronicle of Higher Education) critiques changes in academia, such as reduced public funding and the shift to "academic wage labour" (Cantwell, 2011).


Individual Development Plans (IDPs) for Postdoctoral Fellows

An IDP provides an opportunity for postdocs to identify their short term research and professional development goals, and long term career goals. Making goals explicit and sharing them has been shown to enhance goal completion. An IDP is a tool for postdocs to self-assess their skill set, reflect on their progress, and highlight their achievements. The IDP helps students to make more informed decisions about their next steps and think beyond the present to envision a trajectory beyond the postdoctoral fellowship. A key aspect of an IDP is the self-assessment of skills, interests, and values.

Visit McGill's myPath website to access planners, workbooks, video guides, peer discussions, and other resources to help you develop your IDP.

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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