Should You Pursue a Postdoc?

Benefits of Completing a Postdoctoral Position

You finally see the finish line after years of working on your Ph.D! While weighing your options and career aspirations, you wonder whether a postdoctoral position is best for you. A postdoc is generally a short-term research position (1-3 years) that provides further training in your field or even a very different field and opportunities to develop as an independent researcher. 

If you have a deep love for research, that’s a great sign. But here are some stronger indicators you would benefit from conducting postdoc research.

Good Reasons to Pursue a Postdoc

Postdoc researchers working as part of the Braun Research Group at Engineering Sciences Building in Urbana, IL
Postdoc researchers working as part of the Braun Research Group at Engineering Sciences Building in Urbana, IL
  1. Your goal is to become a professor or researcher in academia, government, or industry. The postdoc year(s) can be an opportunity to develop independence, hone technical skills, focus research interests and develop leadership and project management skills. The primary motivation for individuals to complete a postdoc is academia, but some people use the postdoc to decide between a career in research and/or teaching versus one in industry.

  2. You want to further investigate research problems in your field or apply your expertise to solve new problems in other fields. The postdoc allows you the time and support to build upon your Ph.D research or to propose and pursue new lines of research.

  3. You’ll get more opportunities for networking and collaboration. At The Grainger College of Engineering graduate program, ranked #11 overall in the U.S. News & World Report, you have access to some of the most influential researchers in the world. 

  4. Some universities offer professional support to assist students as they enter the workforce after postdoctoral studies. The Grainger College of Engineering is committed to provide professional advice or training from our experienced researchers. This includes professional development on writing competitive grant proposals, teaching effectively, engaging in impactful community outreach activities, managing relationships, mentoring graduate and undergraduate researchers and writing future job applications.

  5. You can expand your technical knowledge. You’ll have more time to gain new technical, research and soft skills. This is an excellent opportunity to learn advanced techniques and vastly enhance your portfolio of skills.

Bad Reasons to Pursue a Postdoc

Engineering students test their inventions on the Bardeen Quad
Professor Pinshane Huang in Materials Science and Engineering and her team of postdocs and students discovered how to view structures in molecules, which opens a whole new realm of scientific possibilities.
  1. You’ve been told it’s a good idea or the natural next step. However, not everyone is a career advisor. Many professors also view a postdoc as the default option, especially for high-achieving grad students. Examine the real reasons you want to pursue postdoctoral research before you make a decision.

  2. You want to avoid employment by staying on and continuing studies. Getting a postdoctoral position might seem like an easy option. However, you should ask yourself if you will get something valuable out of this postdoc experience, or if you’re doing it because you’re afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

  3. You want to boost your resume. The postdoc position is a unique learning opportunity that requires significant intellectual contributions. There is also a strong focus on research. Thus, the postdoc has the most benefit for people who want to make research a core element of their career.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 

Every person, regardless of their background, belongs in academic spaces. However, the odds tend to be stacked against individuals from groups that have been historically marginalized, but not for lack of qualifications or ambition. Nationwide, disproportionately low numbers of postdoctoral students identify as being Black, Hispanic or Indigenous. For example, whereas 3.9% and 6.1% of science and engineering Ph.D graduates in the U.S. identify as Black and Hispanic, respectively, the representation falls to 1.1% and 1.7% for postdocs (ASEE and NCSES).

Without proper representation across the various dimensions of diversity (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, disability, veteran status, nationality), the respective academic fields lack a diversity of thought. It is well known that diverse teams are more innovative and are better at solving complex problems. Higher education can achieve much more when everyone is invited and brings their unique perspectives to answer the challenging research questions of today. But to achieve this, we need everyone to feel welcome. Towards this end, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign seeks to include individuals from various underrepresented groups in its postdoctoral programs and to make a difference at scale. 

The IDEA Institute, a branch of The Grainger College of Engineering, is a hub for diversity-related activities. Through its signature GIANT program, the IDEA Institute funds and mentors teams led by students, postdocs, staff and faculty to implement their proposed initiatives to promote inclusion, diversity, equity and access (I.D.E.A.). The Institute also arms university personnel with anti-racism resources and conducts research on a wide range of topics including inclusive teaching practices, removing structural inequities and integrating I.D.E.A. concepts into engineering courses and research.