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The pursuit of independence: Tips and lessons from our postdoc workshop

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The pursuit of independence: Tips and lessons from our postdoc workshop

Membership

Hannah M Kirton, University of Leeds, UK


So we want to establish our own independent research? But where do we start? Do we apply for a fellowship or a lectureship? What is the difference between fellowship and lectureship? When do we start applying? Do we have enough pilot data? What mentor should we select?

These are all daunting questions to consider in our journey to academic independence, but very important nevertheless; while variability in the available information and possible funding pathways pose yet further questions.

To provide some clarity on how postdocs can secure their first permanent academic position, The Physiological Society – with guidance from the Affiliate Working Group – developed a tailored workshop for postdocs, which took place in London on 23 November 2018. As a postdoc, I attended this workshop and quickly found the benefits of attending. The fact that the workshop had been tailored to address the specific needs of those attending was extremely invaluable to me. The friendly, informal approach of the event also helped to encourage discussion and future peer support.

Four speakers who had already made the transition to a permanent post were invited to share their honest expertise and knowledge to help us think more clearly about how we should execute the next steps in our careers. Katharine Dibb from the University of Manchester alongside Bethan Phillips from the University of Nottingham shared their experiences in securing funding. Their key take-home message was to accept rejections, and although failure is difficult to apprehend, it is a common concept in academia and one must never take it personally. Encouragingly, Phillips further explained how her failures lead to her most successful grants, and this was with thanks to the advice that most funding societies offer in terms of reviewers’ comments.

Another fundamental aspect to consider was mentoring, and how important it is to find the right person for you and your career needs. It surprised me just how important a mentor truly is. Bryn Owen from Imperial College London spoke honestly about his pitfalls and successes, and that it wasn’t until he found a mentor that he truly made clear concise decisions for his academic future.

Finally, Federico Formenti from King’s College London challenged us to list the top three elements that we believe to be crucial in making ourselves more employable. Amongst this list were publications, citations, grant successes, what specialist techniques we are highly recognised for and our networking ability. The day was concluded with a roundtable discussion to ask ad libitum questions, which included the benefits and difference between applying for lectureships vs. fellowships, and barriers to career progression. At the end of the day, we were asked  to make our own personal career pledge using what we had learned during the workshop to guide us. I pledged to seek both internal and external mentors to enhance and aid in my ability to gain academic success. Since the event, I have secured both mentors that I feel will prove instrumental to my next academic step.

Overall, this workshop has encouraged me to pursue my academic ambitions and helped to specifically tailor my needs to enable this. If you would like more information on maintaining academic success and gaining your next step in academia, I would strongly recommend you to visit The Society’s website (www.physoc.org) or you can contact education@physoc.org for details of any future opportunities for postdocs.

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