What is a Postdoctoral Associate?

Stephanie Torreno

A postdoctoral associate position allows graduate students the opportunity to deepen their scholarly experience. By conducting academic or scholarly research, a postdoctoral associate develops expertise in a specific subject, including required skills and methods. This research contributes to the educational mission of a university or a host institution, and is expected to be published in relevant publications.

A postdoctoral associate refers to an individual who has completed his or her doctoral studies and who often conducts research within five years of earning the doctoral degree.
A postdoctoral associate refers to an individual who has completed his or her doctoral studies and who often conducts research within five years of earning the doctoral degree.

A postdoctoral associate has completed her doctoral studies, and usually begins conducting research within five years of earning her degree. This research position may be funded through an appointment with a salary or with a stipend or sponsorship award. These appointments may also be called postdoctoral research fellows, or postdoctoral research assistants. All of these titles are commonly referred to as "post docs." Postdoctoral associates may either work independently or under the supervision of a principal investigator or mentor, depending on the type of appointment.

A postdoctoral associate may work under the supervision of a mentor.
A postdoctoral associate may work under the supervision of a mentor.

While further developing their own research skills, postdoctoral associates often offer significant contributions to the academic institution, create and discover new knowledge, and provide research direction for undergraduate and graduate students. Postdoctoral associates pursue this temporary period of research and scholarly training to acquire necessary skills to pursue the career of their own choosing. Associates may choose careers from among many fields, including engineering, mathematics, biological sciences, and psychology and other social sciences.

Postdoctoral associates may collect and analyze laboratory results on a specific topic.
Postdoctoral associates may collect and analyze laboratory results on a specific topic.

A postdoctoral associate may pursue basic, clinical, or translational projects, as long as her efforts are devoted to her own scholarship. If working under the guidance of a mentor, an associate has the responsibilities of actuating her postdoctoral training, and carefully investigating the details of the position. Responsibilities include meeting the obligations and expectations of the postdoctoral appointment, discussing the position with the mentor, and adhering to the research conduct policies of the institution. Since this research is essential to the mission of the mentor and the academic institution, post docs have the freedom to publish the results of their work.

By accepting research positions in industry or other settings, postdoctoral associates can also pursue non-academic careers. These research positions may focus on research and development, quality control, manufacturing and production, process development, computation, and product testing. For postdoctoral associates who do not want to pursue research careers, their skills could instead be used in scientific writing and editing, computer programming, marketing of high-tech products and services, and regulatory affairs. Postdoctoral associates may use non-scientific skills in other careers, perhaps working as financial analysts, consultants, grant writers and administrators, or higher education administrators.

The research of a postdoctoral associate is essential to the mission of the mentor and academic institution for which she works.
The research of a postdoctoral associate is essential to the mission of the mentor and academic institution for which she works.

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Discussion Comments

backdraft

A steady stream of qualified post docs is crucial for the success of any research institution. It is often post docs who make up the biggest percentage of scientific labor on campus. They are a big part of most projects and their training and expertise is vital to the evolution and success of any research project. Having post docs on campus is a way of keeping capable scientific minds within the discourse on campus. They lead to more vibrant and ambitious institutions.

truman12

Doing postdoctoral work is crucial for the development of qualified scientists in any research institute. The reason for this is basically a practical one. Many of the labs that exist to facilitate research don't exist anywhere outside of large research universities. Having a continued relationship with a university is the only way that new PHDs can access a lab in order to conduct on going research.

I have a friend that is doing postgraduate work in theoretical physics and there is basically no where for her to conduct her research expect in the laboratory that she used while writing her thesis. Without this resource her research would be sitting idle.

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