Exploring the Role: What Does a Postdoctoral Fellow Do in Their Day-to-Day?

Postdoctoral fellows are a unique group of highly skilled individuals who are typically in their early career stages after earning their doctoral degree. Most people who are not in academia may not have heard of this profession, or may have heard of it but aren’t sure what postdoctoral fellows do. This article aims to shed light on the role of postdoctoral fellows and provide insight into the important work that they do.

At its core, a postdoctoral fellow is a researcher who holds a doctoral degree and is working on a project under the guidance of a mentor, typically a professor or senior researcher. They are not yet on the tenure track, but are instead working on a temporary contract basis to gain additional knowledge, skills, and experience in their field. Postdoctoral fellows conduct experiments, collect and analyze data, write and publish research papers, collaborate with other researchers, and present their work at conferences.

This article will delve deeper into the specifics of what postdoctoral fellows do, what their goals are, and why their work is crucial in advancing the fields they work in. We will also explore the challenges that postdoctoral fellows face, such as job insecurity and lack of institutional support, and provide tips and advice for those considering pursuing this career path. Whether you are a current postdoctoral fellow, a graduate student considering a postdoc, or simply curious about this often-overlooked profession, this article will provide valuable insights and information.

Qualifications for becoming a postdoctoral fellow

Becoming a postdoctoral fellow is an opportunity that can be pursued by individuals who have completed a doctoral degree and who are passionate about pursuing further research in their field of study. It is an incredibly rewarding experience that provides a unique opportunity to work on cutting-edge research, develop new skills, and gain valuable experience that can propel one’s career forward.

  • Doctoral Degree: To become a postdoctoral fellow, one must have completed a doctoral degree in a relevant field of study. This typically involves at least 6 years of higher education which includes both coursework and independent research that culminates in a dissertation.
  • Research Experience: Postdoctoral positions are highly competitive, and applicants with a strong publication record and research experience are more likely to be considered. Thus, it is important to have prior research experience, which may include independent research conducted during the doctoral program or previous research positions.
  • Expertise in a Specific Field: Postdoctoral fellowships are designed to provide advanced training in a specific field. Therefore, it is important that applicants have a deep understanding and expertise in their field of study, which should be reflected in their prior research experience, publication record, as well as their research proposal.

While the above-mentioned qualifications are essential, there are additional factors that can increase an applicant’s chances of getting a postdoctoral position. For instance, having a strong network of academic contacts, participating in professional conferences and workshops, and obtaining funding from grant agencies can all demonstrate an applicant’s dedication to professional development and research excellence.

Ultimately, regardless of one’s background or qualifications, becoming a postdoctoral fellow requires commitment, focus, and a strong work ethic. However, for those who are passionate about pursuing a career in academia or in research, a postdoctoral position can be an invaluable stepping stone to achieving their goals.

Daily Responsibilities and Tasks

As a postdoctoral fellow, your daily responsibilities and tasks will depend on your area of research and specific role within your lab or institution. However, there are some common duties that you may encounter in this position.

One of your main responsibilities will be to conduct research in your area of expertise. This could involve designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and writing up results for publication in academic journals.

You may also be responsible for managing lab projects, including overseeing research assistants and coordinating with collaborators. In addition, you may be expected to assist with grant or manuscript writing, attend scientific conferences, and present your research findings to interested parties.

Sample Tasks

  • Conducting experiments
  • Analyzing data
  • Writing up results for publication
  • Managing lab projects
  • Overseeing research assistants
  • Coordinating with collaborators
  • Assisting with grant or manuscript writing
  • Attending scientific conferences
  • Presenting research findings to interested parties

Time Allocation

As a postdoctoral fellow, you will likely be working long hours, with some days lasting over 10 hours. It’s important to stay organized and manage your time effectively to ensure that your tasks are completed on schedule. Depending on your research area, you may find that different tasks require different amounts of time and effort. For example, designing experiments and collecting data may take up the majority of your time, while grant writing and presentations may only take up a few hours per week.

It’s also important to carve out time for professional development and self-care. This could include attending workshops or seminars to improve your skills, or taking breaks throughout the day to stretch, exercise, or practice mindfulness.

Collaboration and Communication

As a postdoctoral fellow, you will likely work closely with mentors and collaborators, both inside and outside of your lab or institution. Developing strong communication skills and learning to collaborate effectively is key to success in this position. This could include maintaining open lines of communication with your lab mates, participating in regular lab meetings, and building relationships with potential collaborators and future employers.

TaskTime Allocation
Designing experiments20%
Collecting data40%
Analyzing results20%
Grant writing10%

Overall, the daily responsibilities and tasks of a postdoctoral fellow are varied and require a high level of skill and expertise. However, with careful time management and effective communication, this position can be incredibly rewarding and offer valuable experience for future career opportunities.

Funding Opportunities for Postdoctoral Research

As a postdoctoral fellow, securing funding for research projects is essential for advancing one’s academic career. Here are some funding opportunities available for postdoctoral research:

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) Individual Fellowships: The NIH offers different types of individual fellowships for postdoctoral researchers in biomedical and behavioral research. The funding covers salary, research expenses, and institutional allowance based on the type of fellowship.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships: The NSF provides postdoctoral fellowships for researchers in several fields of study, including social, natural, and physical sciences. The fellowship covers salary, research expenses, and institutional overhead costs for up to two years.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship: The AAUW offers fellowships to support women postdoctoral researchers in any field of study. The funding covers salary, research expenses, and travel costs for up to two years.

Applying for these funding opportunities requires a competitive proposal that outlines the research project, its significance, expected outcomes, and research plan. The proposal should also showcase the researcher’s expertise and skills and match the funding agency’s priorities and mission. Collaborating with established researchers or organizations in the field can also increase the chances of securing funding.

It’s important to note that different funding agencies have different requirements and deadlines for their postdoctoral research fellowships. Therefore, researchers must thoroughly read the guidelines, consult with colleagues and mentors, and start the application process well in advance.

Funding AgencyEligibility CriteriaFunding Duration
NIH Individual FellowshipsPh.D. or equivalent degree in biomedical and behavioral researchUp to 5 years
NSF Postdoctoral Research FellowshipsPh.D. or equivalent degree in social, natural, and physical sciencesUp to 2 years
AAUW Postdoctoral Research FellowshipPh.D. or equivalent degree in any field of studyUp to 2 years

In conclusion, postdoctoral researchers have several funding opportunities available to support their research projects. Securing funding is crucial for building a successful academic career and advancing scientific knowledge. Researchers must carefully craft competitive proposals and follow the funding agencies’ guidelines and deadlines to increase their chances of success.

Balancing research and teaching duties

As a postdoctoral fellow, one of the most challenging aspects of the job is balancing research and teaching duties. While research is typically the primary focus, many postdocs are also expected to teach or assist with teaching courses, which can pose a significant time management challenge. Here are some tips to help you balance your research and teaching responsibilities:

  • Set clear priorities: It’s important to establish your priorities when it comes to research and teaching. Determine what your primary goals are in each area and allocate your time accordingly.
  • Make a schedule: Create a schedule that allows you to allocate time for both research and teaching. Block out specific time slots for each activity, and be sure to stick to the schedule as much as possible.
  • Communicate with your supervisor: Stay in touch with your supervisor about your workload and any issues or challenges that arise. They can help you prioritize your tasks and manage your time effectively.

In addition to these general tips, here are some specific strategies you can use to balance your research and teaching duties:

When it comes to conducting research, prioritize your time by:

  • Setting specific research goals for each day or week
  • Focusing on the most important tasks first, such as conducting experiments or analyzing data
  • Limiting distractions by turning off your phone or email notifications during specific research periods

When it comes to teaching, keep these strategies in mind:

  • Develop a clear and concise syllabus that outlines your expectations for the course
  • Use a variety of teaching techniques to keep students engaged, such as group discussions, case analyses, or simulations
  • Provide prompt feedback on assignments and exams to help students improve their performance

Overall, balancing research and teaching duties can be challenging, but with careful planning and effective time management strategies, postdoctoral fellows can be successful in both areas.

Opportunity to gain teaching experience and develop valuable skillsTeaching demands can detract from research productivity
Enhanced credibility in the academic communityIncreased workload and stress

While there are both pros and cons to balancing research and teaching duties, postdocs can use the strategies outlined above to optimize their time and excel in both areas.

Career prospects after postdoctoral fellowship

Postdoctoral fellowships are temporary research positions that provide scholars with an opportunity to conduct research in their chosen field, earn a higher salary, gain access to new research facilities, and build partnerships with other scholars and researchers. But the real question is what happens after completing a postdoctoral fellowship? It’s an important question to consider, as a postdoctoral fellowship should be a steppingstone toward a fulfilling career. Here are some career prospects to consider after a postdoctoral fellowship:

  • Academic positions: One of the most common career prospects for postdoctoral fellows is academic positions. Many researchers aspire to become professors in universities, and a postdoctoral fellowship provides an excellent pathway to achieving this goal. The fellowship provides the necessary training and experience that is required to be a competitive candidate for academic positions, which includes teaching and research.
  • Research positions: The skills and knowledge gained during a postdoctoral fellowship make researchers an excellent fit for research positions. Many corporations, non-profit organizations, and government agencies require researchers to conduct research and develop new products. Postdoctoral fellows can find many opportunities in research-focused positions, such as research scientists, research associates, and research advisors.
  • Entrepreneurship: Postdoctoral fellows who want to create their own startup businesses can take advantage of their research experience and collaborate with other scholars and researchers to create new products and services. Entrepreneurship requires creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills, all of which are developed during a postdoctoral fellowship.

Postdoctoral fellows should also be aware of other career prospects, such as working in the government, education sector, non-profits, or becoming science writers. In summary, completing a postdoctoral fellowship opens up many career prospects for scholars. It provides them with the essential skills, experience, and connections needed to succeed in their chosen field. A postdoctoral fellowship can be a vital steppingstone toward a fulfilling career.

Collaborating with other researchers and institutions

Collaboration is a vital aspect of being a postdoctoral fellow and is necessary in order to make scientific breakthroughs. Researchers collaborate with each other to share knowledge, techniques, and ideas, as well as to gain new perspectives on their research. In addition to working with other researchers in their own institution, postdoctoral fellows often collaborate with researchers at other institutions and across international borders. This collaboration can come in many different forms:

  • Co-authoring papers and research articles with other researchers
  • Sharing data and research materials with other researchers
  • Collaborating on grant proposals and funding applications

Collaboration with other institutions can also bring a wealth of resources and access to facilities and equipment that may not be available at the postdoctoral fellow’s own institution. Additionally, international collaboration can allow the researcher to gain new perspectives and insights, as well as network with researchers from different cultural backgrounds.

Benefits of Collaboration

Collaborating with other researchers and institutions can bring numerous benefits to a postdoctoral fellow, including access to cutting-edge research, new ideas and perspectives, and the ability to network with other researchers. Collaboration can also enhance a postdoctoral fellow’s research by allowing them to learn new techniques and methodologies from others in the field. Additionally, collaboration can lead to published research articles and grant funding, which can be crucial to the success of a postdoctoral fellowship.

Challenges of Collaboration

While collaboration can bring many benefits, it can also present challenges for postdoctoral fellows. Communication can be difficult when collaborating across international borders, especially when dealing with language barriers. In addition, differences in research practices, expectations, or even timezones can make collaboration challenging. It is important for postdoctoral fellows to be flexible and adaptable when collaborating with others, and to take the initiative to establish clear communication and expectations early on.


Collaboration with other researchers and institutions is an essential aspect of being a postdoctoral fellow and can bring many benefits to a researcher’s career. Through collaboration, researchers can share knowledge and resources, gain new perspectives, and enhance the quality of their research. While collaboration can present challenges, it is important for postdoctoral fellows to embrace the opportunities that come with working with others and to share their expertise with the wider scientific community.

Access to cutting-edge research, new ideas and perspectives, and the ability to network with other researchersDifficult communication when collaborating across international borders
Learning new techniques and methodologies from others in the fieldDifferences in research practices, expectations, or even timezones can make collaboration challenging
Potential for published research articles and grant fundingMay require additional effort and resources to establish clear communications and expectations

Overall, the benefits of collaborating with other researchers and institutions outweigh the challenges, and it is an essential part of being a postdoctoral fellow.

Challenges and Rewards of Pursuing a Postdoctoral Fellowship

Undertaking a postdoctoral fellowship is a challenging yet rewarding experience. It requires persistence, dedication, and hard work to harness the opportunities that it presents. Below are some challenges and rewards that come with pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship.

  • Challenge: Job insecurity.
  • Postdoctoral fellows are temporary employees working under time-bound contracts. The fear of unemployment after the contract ends is an anxiety that weighs heavily on many of them.

  • Challenge: Pressure to produce results.
  • Postdoctoral fellows are expected to produce tangible results in their research work within a relatively limited period. They face immense pressure to meet research goals and publish their findings.

  • Challenge: Limited resources.
  • Postdoctoral fellows often work with limited resources, including insufficient lab space, equipment, and funding. This can hinder research progress and lead to frustration among researchers.

  • Reward: Professional development.
  • Working in a postdoctoral fellowship enables one to develop new skills, gain research experience, and establish a network of collaborators in the field. These opportunities can help build a successful career path in academia or industry.

  • Reward: Exposure to new ideas.
  • Postdoctoral fellowships offer the chance to work with leading researchers, learn from them, and gain exposure to new ideas and research approaches. This exposure can broaden one’s intellectual horizons and stimulate innovative thinking.

  • Reward: Contribution to science.
  • Postdoctoral fellows have the opportunity to contribute to advancing scientific knowledge through their research work. This contribution can be immensely fulfilling, both personally and professionally.

Tips for Overcoming Challenges Experienced by Postdoctoral Fellows

Here are some tips for overcoming the challenges experienced by postdoctoral fellows:

  • Seek career counseling and mentorship to develop transferrable skills and explore career options beyond academia.
  • Join professional associations and attend conferences to network and build professional connections in your field.
  • Communicate openly with your supervisor about the progress of your research and discuss any concerns or challenges you are facing.
  • Collaborate and share resources with other postdoctoral fellows to overcome challenges related to limited resources.

Comparison Table: Postdoctoral Fellowship vs. Industry vs. Academia

Below is a table comparing postdoctoral fellowships with careers in industry and academia based on various factors.

FactorPostdoctoral FellowshipIndustryAcademia
Job SecurityLowHighMedium
Work-Life BalanceVariesVariesVaries
Opportunity for Career AdvancementMediumHighHigh
Opportunity for Professional DevelopmentHighMediumHigh
Job DescriptionResearch-focusedVariesTeaching and Research-focused

It is important to consider these factors when deciding to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship, as they can impact one’s career growth and satisfaction.

FAQs – What Does a Postdoctoral Fellow Do

1. What is a postdoctoral fellow?

A postdoctoral fellow, or postdoc for short, is a researcher who has completed their Ph.D. and is now conducting further research in a specific field.

2. What does a postdoc do?

A postdoc works alongside other researchers to perform in-depth studies on a particular topic, analyze data, write papers, and develop their research skills.

3. How long is a postdoc position?

Postdoc positions typically last between two and five years, but it varies depending on the funding and the specific research area.

4. Is a postdoctoral fellowship necessary to become a professor?

No, it is not mandatory, but many aspiring professors choose to complete a postdoc fellowship to gain research experience and make a name for themselves in their field.

5. Can postdocs apply for their research grants?

Yes, postdocs can apply for research grants to fund their research projects. However, they usually have to work with a supervisor or principal investigator to secure funding.

6. What are some essential skills for postdocs?

Being a postdoc requires strong analytical skills, critical thinking, communication skills, and a deep understanding of their research area.

7. What are the career opportunities after a postdoc position?

Postdocs often find work as professors, researchers, or scientists in academic or industrial settings. Some postdocs also choose to transition into a career in industry, government, or policy.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading our article on what a postdoctoral fellow does! We hope you found it informative and helpful. If you have any questions or want more information, feel free to visit our website later for more articles on a broad range of topics.