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Making the Most of a Postdoctoral Position



Making the Most of a Postdoctoral Position

Staff in the Career and Postdoctoral Services Office (CPSO) at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) know that postdoctoral fellowships are about more than scientific training. That’s why the CPSO offers programs to clarify career options, boost networking skills, aid in job searching and much more.

In fact, the CPSO provides dozens of professional development programs annually, including “Meet the Alumni” networking events, career panels, academic job search workshops and scientific writing presentations. Resume writing seminars, on-camera practice interviews, social media tutorials, and networking workshops are offered regularly. The office also offers individual career advising appointments and a dedicated career resources library for postdocs and graduate students.

So how can you make the most of your time as a postdoc? Ryan Wheeler, director of Career, International & Postdoctoral Services at TSRI, described the path to a successful postdoctoral experience:

Structuring your experience

  • Have a plan. Early in your postdoc, discuss, prioritize and write down the goals you hope to accomplish during your training experience. Annual performance reviews and Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are widely recognized as effective tools not only for setting and achieving goals, but also encouraging productive communication between postdocs and their mentors. Several IDP templates are available on the TSRI website.

    “We strongly encourage postdocs to create Individual Development Plans (IDPs) and to meet regularly with their mentors about their research progress and career goals. IDPs help foster open communication about training expectations, research progress and career planning,” Wheeler said.
  • Be efficient and productive with your time. Demonstrate that you can find the gaps in knowledge, conduct innovative research and carry projects through to completion. Establish your identity in the scientific community by presenting at conferences, collaborating and publishing your work. Additionally, take advantage of opportunities to develop your transferable skills, such as leadership, communication and project management.
  • Make time for some self-assessment and career exploration. The CPSO meets regularly with graduate students and postdocs to help them in this regard, and it also offers a seven-part graduate course to equip them with the skills, resources and self-assessment information necessary to make informed career choices both inside and outside academia.
  • Seek independent funding, especially if you want to pursue an academic career. Postdocs who secure fellowships typically enjoy greater independence and can demonstrate resourcefulness, persuasiveness, writing skills, project management skills and more to future employers, making them appealing candidates in a job interview.
  • Take care of yourself. The postdoc training experience is filled with challenging research problems, intensive creativity and hard work. Seek opportunities to balance your efforts in the lab by exploring personal hobbies and outside interests. Foster your support network and rejuvenate your mind and body by going for a run, joining a stand-up paddle boarding club or enrolling in a painting workshop. If you find yourself struggling with a problem that is too difficult to manage on your own, reach out for support.


  • Utilize campus groups. The Institute’s postdoctoral associations, the Society of Fellows and Scripps Florida Society of Research Fellows, are non-profit, volunteer organizations designed to encourage both professional and social exchange. The two groups sponsor visiting lectures, informal networking events, social activities and annual research symposia. Other active groups include the ScrippsAssists employee volunteer club, Toastmasters, a management consulting club and the TSRI Network for Women in Science.
  • Attend the wealth of research and career events on the Torrey Pines Mesa and mingle with visiting speakers and colleagues after seminars. Develop multiple versions of your “elevator pitch,” fine-tuning your self-introduction for various audiences. Reach out to colleagues at conferences and attend alumni meetups. The Institute’s postdoctoral associations offer travel awards for postdocs to attend scientific meetings.

    “Don’t underestimate the importance of building your network. We’ve seen numerous postdocs secure jobs through various campus groups, collaborations and community events,” Wheeler said. “And, the earlier you start engaging others, the better. It’s much easier to approach new contacts before you have the added pressures of an active job search.”
  • Take advantage of online networking. Create a LinkedIn profile and join the “TSRI Postdoc Network,” as well as other professional/specialty groups and alumni organizations on LinkedIn.

For International Postdocs

  • At TSRI’s California campus, a “Pronouncing American English” program is provided for scholars whose first language isn’t English. The CPSO also provides peer-editing services for grants and manuscripts on both campuses. Toastmasters is a great way for all postdocs to practice their public speaking skills as well.
  • With processing times at various government agencies increasing, it’s even more critical for international researchers to plan early—and plan well—due to visa implications. TSRI’s International Services Office (ISO) is well-versed in helping labs and scholars navigate complex visa issues, as well as travel and timing concerns.
  • For international postdocs with spouses or partners, the ISO and Counseling and Psychological Services Department arrange a monthly support group to facilitate connections among international spouses and partners. For more information, contact

For more information, please visit the CPSO website.

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Postdoctoral fellows Verena Albert (left) and Jessica Mayeux at a career event on the Torrey Pines Mesa. (Photo by Jean Branan.)