What is a Postdoctoral Research Associate?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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A postdoctoral research associate is a person who conducts scholarly research after completing his or her doctoral studies. Postdoctoral research may be completed at the institution where the researcher completed his or her doctorate or at a different one entirely. It is not uncommon for researchers to move to a foreign country to complete postdoctoral research work. Generally this kind of research is conducted within the five years following the completion of the researcher's PhD.

The term postdoctoral research associate is closely related to and often synonymous with the terms postdoctoral research assistant and postdoctoral research fellow. It is common, in casual conversation, for all of these terms to be shortened to "post-doc" as in, "My scientist friend is working as a post-doc in New York."

The purpose of postdoctoral research is to deepen an academic's knowledge of his or her area of expertise. A postdoctoral research associate may also work to improve certain skills. In some countries, completing a course of such research can lead to credentials above and beyond the PhD. In some American institutions, postdoctoral research work has become an important precursor to a tenure-track position.


Institutions generally host postdoctoral research associates in the hopes that their work will result in new findings in the associate's field. Such findings, depending on the associate's particular field, are often published in scientific, medical, or academic journals. New findings and the publication of articles in important journals are important to an institution's prestige and credibility within a particular field.

Postdoctoral research associates are afforded the opportunity to conduct their research on a full-time basis. This means that they are required to spend limited working hours teaching or giving lectures, if any time at all. They may, however, be asked to present their findings at professional conferences. Having this dedicated time to research, it is the hope that the associates will have a stronger chance of developing new theories or coming to new findings. While university faculty are often conducting research of their own, they must split their time between instruction and research. Postdoctoral research associates, on the other hand, do not need to split their working hours between multiple responsibilities.

A postdoctoral research associate is paid by his or her host institution. Payment may be offered in the form of a salary or stipend. Depending on the requirements of the host institution, a postdoctoral research associate may work independently or under the guidance of an adviser or supervisor.


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