National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) is an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution postdocs and researchers make towards research and academic life in general. A postdoc (otherwise known as a ‘postdoctoral’ or ‘postdoctoral researcher’) is a person professionally conducting research after the completion of their doctoral studies. The postdoc community at the Quadram Institute is integral to the ground-breaking science and research taking place.
To mark National Postdoc Appreciation Week, we sat down with the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society (QIPS) to chat about the society, how it provides support and connections, their experiences as postdocs, and their advice for those looking to pursue a postdoc position.
Let’s start with an introduction to the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society (QIPS). Can you explain what the society is and what its aims are? Who is part of the 2021-2022 QIPS Committee, and what does the committee do?
Dr Teagan Brown, Researcher in Evelien Adriaenssens’ Group and Chair of QIPS
QIPS is the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society! The society is run by postdocs for postdocs, bringing together ~70 scientists currently working at the institute. QIPS aims to support postdocs in all aspects of their jobs, both academically and personally. We host career and personal development sessions and training, as well as provide a voice for postdocs. Last but not least, we welcome new starters and just have a laugh with social events!
Introducing the current team, I am the Chair, we have Dimitris Latousakis as Secretary, Nabil-Fareed Alikhan as Treasurer, Maria Diaz as Communications Officer, Matt Bawn as Training Officer, Rebecca Ansorge as Welfare Officer, Paula Corsini as Social Events Officer and Martin Lott as Online Engagement Officer. Our fantastic committee work to represent the cohort, unite and positively contribute to postdoc life.
Why did you decide to join the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society (QIPS) committee?
Dr Rebecca Ansorge, Researcher in Falk Hildebrand’s group and QIPS Welfare Officer
I recently joined the QIPS committee as a Welfare Officer. Progressing from PhD student to postdoc which included moving to a different country and institute made me more aware that doing well as a researcher depends on many aspects in the work environment but also work-life balance. We work best when we are happy, well and healthy. Yet, as a postdoc it is not always easy to stay well when there is always more to do, the next paper to be published, another deadline approaching, job uncertainties, etc. I am hoping to contribute to increasing possibilities for postdocs to get and stay well. I joined the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society for a couple of reasons:
- To be able to influence increasing welfare and wellbeing for postdocs.
- To meet and network with other members of QIPS (which is a great group of people!)
- Because I realised that I can use my voice for more things than research presentations.
- Getting a different perspective on Postdoc life at the Quadram Institute.
Could you tell us more about the events and activities hosted by the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society (QIPS) and the events you have planned this year?
Dr Maria Diaz, Researcher in Matthew Gilmour’s group and QIPS Communication Officer
As a Postdoc Society, we aim to organise events that are relevant to our postdoc community. Among the events that we have organised during the last two years, we can name training sessions that help with our personal development, such as “Communicating your research” or “the Innovation training series”.
We also enjoyed some inspirational talks that help us keep motivated during our careers, such as a Career talk by Dr Daphne Ezer, where we could learn from her successful experience, or an “Imposter syndrome” workshop, where we got some advice on how to deal with this common pattern. If you missed these events, you could still watch them on the Quadram Intranet!
For future events, we have planned sessions on shameless self-promotion and resilience, and we are looking forward to organising more social events and meeting all our colleagues in person!
Why should people get involved with the Quadram Institute Postdoc Society and QIPS activities?
Dr Matt Bawn, Researcher in Rob Kingsley’s group at the Quadram and the Neil Hall group at the Earlham Institute, and QIPS Training Officer
Progression within our chosen career is important to many of us. In academic research perhaps more than any other, career progression depends a lot on each researchers own personal development. Perspective is an important element of personal development, and engaging researchers will know their place in the world, often because they have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
A successful researcher will tend to see the bigger picture and how they fit in. This is not always as easy for scientists concentrating on very specific research questions. During PhD studies, we spend years focusing on our research topics entrenched in our research groups. As postdoctoral researchers we all too often fall into the same pattern, sometimes more so, as students, we formed part of a postgrad cohort and engaged more with our peers and institutional networks.
As postdocs it’s easy to become myopic in our focus, it’s a common academic mantra that career progression depends on publications and so we sacrifice activities that don’t relate directly to our research and manuscripts. Publications are undoubtedly important, but there will always be someone who has more publications than you, so we must also strive for balance.
Building relationships with people outside of the research environment, experiencing different cultures and approaches, and learning in a non-academic context is important for personal development. It is an essential skill in all areas of life and one that is often overlooked in research environments but larger networks and greater interaction with our peers within our institutions often lets us see the ‘bigger picture’ that we need to ground our research and find the next idea and opportunity.
Looking back on your career journey, what was the transition like from PhD student to a postdoctoral researcher (postdoc)?
Dr Nabil-Fareed Alikhan, Bioinformatician in Andrew Page’s Group and QIPS Treasurer
I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support as I have moved from PhD to post-doc.
Even though it was a shift with the research project, my first post-doc was still a continuation of the skills I had developed during my PhD.
A general rule among many group leaders is that a person’s first post-doctoral position is still a training position.
So, I’ve had a very gradual transition. As I’ve met more colleagues over the years, I’ve found that they have not had the same luck I’ve had.
For those looking to apply to postdoctoral positions, what would be your top tips?
Dr Paula Corsini, Researcher in Cynthia Whitchurch’s group and QIPS Social Events Officer
I would first suggest chatting with people that have taken this path and try to understand what this step means for you and your career.
Second, think about what science you would like to be involved with, which techniques you would like to learn and if the position you are applying for can help you achieve your goals. Once you have all this figured out (sort of) get to the practical bits of searching about the group, their publications, try to understand what they do and imagine yourself being part of it. Look into the institution, the opportunities they offer for Postdoctoral researchers and what you can get from being part of it.
As for any position, you should be looking for what works for you, there’s nothing better than finding a good fit, a place that you feel engaged, interested, valued and able to learn and develop your career. Once you spend time considering all those semi-philosophical points, it’s just a matter of listing them down and you will have a strong case.
As a piece of more practical advice, I would suggest getting in touch with the Lab you are interested in applying for and asking more detailed questions about the project and anything that you feel is not very clear from the job description. Most of the time, the lab recruiting will be happy to give more information, as is also their interest to find the best person for the job. Don’t be put off by one or two techniques you don’t master, or jargon that might sound scary. You can always clarify those issues before the application, during the interview or even before accepting an offer. Have confidence in your skills, don’t be afraid of listing your abilities and the great things about you and put yourself out there!
We all feel a bit awkward writing applications and listing all the amazing things we’ve done, but if you don’t do it, no one will know. Good luck!