The NSF defines a Postdoctoral Scholar as “an individual who has received a doctoral degree and is engaged in a temporary period of mentored training to enhance their professional skills to pursue his or her chosen career path.”
Career paths were the subject of the inaugural ASU Postdoc Career Conference, held in the Tempe Memorial Union on May 22.
The conference kicked off with a keynote address from Dr. Josh Henkin, founder of STEM Career Services — a consulting organization that aims to give PhDs and postdocs the skills they need to be successful in their career pursuits. Dr. Henkin specializes in helping postdocs transition their mindset from being solely academic and helps them to open themselves up to industry jobs and entrepreneurial ventures that are research-based.
The conference agenda followed a similar philosophy, offering sessions and featuring speakers on topics ranging from entrepreneurial startups to academic startup negotiations and everything in between. Many of the presenters at the conference were ASU faculty who themselves had been postdocs. Other presenters were former postdocs who are now working for companies like Medtronic and Honeywell.
“I think it is really important that we try to keep these talented individuals in the Valley,” said Postdoc Office manager Wiley Larsen. “We’re not trying to crush their dream of becoming a professor, but we do want them to be aware of the opportunities and benefits of working for these local companies, or starting a company of their own.”
The challenge with being a postdoctoral scholar is that about 70% of postdocs want to become tenure-track faculty, but only enough academic positions are available to satisfy about 15% of PhD earners. As a result, being a postdoc can be stressful and even depressing. The ASU Postdoctoral Affairs Office is working to provide training and resources to help postdocs be more competitive on the job market. Part of this strategy includes the one-day annual career conference.
Not to be overlooked was the social aspect of the conference.
“I’m just impressed that you got this many postdocs out of their lab and in the same room together,” said Greg Tucker, a postdoc in engineering.
Postdocs are notorious for working long hours and being somewhat anti-social. As a response, the Postdoc Office also provides weekly opportunities to gather for Lunch & Learns, Coffee Breaks and Social Mixers.
The Postdoc Office launched in January 2018 and is housed in the Graduate College, supported by the Graduate Initiatives team. To learn more, visit graduate.asu.edu/postdocs.