Science NextGen Voices: Postdocs reimagined.
The goal of any academic career track after the Ph.D. should be to prepare a researcher for a leadership research position. Whether it means a PI or a professor, the training up until one reaches that position should prepare him or her to independently select and explore scientific conquests, manage people in doing that, and acquire funds to enable them. This means that there exists a period of transition to independence where a young Ph.D. has to be exposed to the circumstances and mentoring they need in order to acquire the necessary skills to continue independently. Currently, postdocs apply for positions in the labs of tenured PIs, where their primary work includes pursuing research topics assigned to them by their superior, managing students, preparing project proposals, and applying for grants within the PI’s field. Although the specific tasks a postdoc should perform vary between countries and especially PIs, I consider this 1 to 3 year position in general okay. However, in order to facilitate more independence in postdocs, I would propose the following: These postdoc positions should be financed directly from the government or university, and not through PIs. Some countries and universities, in some respects, provide such instruments. This would allow for the postdocs to (i) at least partially pursue their own scientific questions, (ii) try working under more than a single PI and therefore experience different managerial practices, and (iii) see whether independent research suits them. The last is especially important, because setting your own scientific goals is much more difficult than following someone else’s.
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