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From a naive point of view, independent post-doc fellowships, a.k.a. super post-doc positions [PMID:17382872], look advantageous compared to normal post-doc positions since you get relatively more independency and some level of funding granted as you start your new job. But are they really so? Do people at such competitive positions suffer from isolation, lack of being mentored, or worries about running out of fellowship money?
Bulent Arman Aksoy
Posted on Apr 08, 2014
postdoc funding fellowships
Apr 08, 2014 4:31 pm

Accepted answer

I received an offer to be a Carnegie Fellow in Baltimore in the first year of my postdoc at Berkeley, but ended up waiting a year to get a faculty position given my advice from my mentors. I had just published one paper and I was almost finished with another manuscript, so I thought I would be ready for the job market anyway. So in the end it was good for me to wait.

I was actually pretty excited about the "glorified postdoc" position because it would give me lab space, a faculty mentor(s) and a lab technician for 5 years.  I also would be able to interact with all of the Carnegie and Hopkins faculty, so I knew I wouldn't be isolated.  I didn't think I had to worry about anything except to do good science and be creative!  And everyone who had been a Carnegie Fellow, had obtained a faculty position.

The only thing that held me back from taking the position was the 5 year stipulation. I knew from the advice of my mentors that my research would already get me a faculty position in less time. And they were right.  In hindsight, I would have loved to spend more time as a postoc doing more lab research, especially the live imaging that I love to do, than more of the paperwork/office stuff I do now. But I love my job, research and I'm really happy making a difference in student's lives.  

I think these positions are fantastic if you are just starting but I was far enough in to my postdoc that the time to faculty position was a deterrant for me. I also would have never ended up in the faculty position I have if it wasn't for the time in which I was applying. They were looking for someone with my expertise and background just at the time I applied. So as fate goes my decisions not to go do a "glorified" postodc route was good. But if I was at another time in my career, I would have been an honor to have this experience, money, lab, mentorship that comes with these positions.

Just a note about this "glorified postdoc" position:  I was actually asked at my poster at a meeting to apply for this position from Carnegie faculty.  I learned from this experience of the power of a good poster and attending meetings, at the postdoc level or any level for that matter.  It's all about the marketing and networking.  

m Ahna Skop
Answered on Apr 09, 2014
3   Apr 09, 2014 5:56 pm

Accepted answer

I was a Lewis-Sigler Fellow at Princeton and really loved it.  The best part was the independence, environment, and  resources.  I was able to develop my own research program, run a small lab (techs, undergraduates, and visiting professors), start substantive collaborations, and teach.  It was like training wheels for being a professor, which made me feel a lot more ready once I moved into a tenure track faculty position.  What I didn't have to do was write grants or do a lot of service work.  The nature of the position was such that I could "round up" when I wanted to, like to meet with seminar speakers or be a full participant in developing curriculum, and "round down" for responsibilities I didn't necessarily want.  Managing a bigger lab and being a professor has still had a learning curve to it for sure, but I'm certain it would have been harder coming from a traditional postdoc.  For example, I came in with a reasonably good idea of how to hire people and how to manage a budget.  Money-wise personally, it was also pretty great to have a near-faculty salary instead of a postdoc salary.

However, I definitely don't think it's for everyone.  I agree with Ahna that it may not be the best use of time if you are already immersed in a productive postdoc.  I started my fellow position right out of grad school, so the timing was good for me.  I also continued/expanded in the same field as my graduate work, and if you want to change fields, you really need to have a good plan for how you will gain the skills you need (like through collaborations with local labs).  Even staying in my same field, it was very useful to join a local multi-lab group meeting where I could get feedback from other people.  As for mentoring, I was a special situation because I moved to Princeton coincident with my graduate advisor, so there was a pre-existing relationship to build on, but I also worked to find other mentors.  I think this was very important, both for my science and for my career.  I felt like I got pretty good mentoring, but you have to be proactive to make sure that happens.  Also, it's worth thinking about whether you really want to run your own group as a postdoc.  It's a lot of responsibility to have people working for you, and you need to have a well thought out research program.  You definitely have enough freedom to fail.

Maitreya Dunham
Answered on Apr 12, 2014
2   Apr 12, 2014 3:52 am
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