Adviser helps postdocs get on the right track

February 16, 2007

Anne Forde recently took up a post at Cambridge University as a careers adviser dedicated to supporting postdoctoral researchers in the life sciences, writes Olga Wojtas.

Cambridge has about 500 early-career life sciences postdocs as well as a substantial number of other contract researchers.

The careers-adviser initiative is funded by money from the the Roberts report recommendations for postgraduates and postdocs. Cambridge also recruited a careers adviser for postdocs in the physical sciences.

"In the earlier days, postgraduate needs had a higher profile, now a lot of people (in UK institutions) are looking at what they can offer postdocs," Dr Forde said. "I would say that postdoc issues are really hitting the radar because a lot of postgraduate provisions are already in place.

"Postdocs are harder to define - they are not in a degree programme, but they are a huge talent pool within universities and definitely deserve to be offered support for their career development."

Over the course of the two-year pilot, she will work with the university's research office to help postdocs identify and secure funding - through personal fellowships, for example.

"We're also pushing them a little bit to find their scientific independence by helping them identify how their future research will differ from that of their supervisor, so that they are independent when they have to leave the nest."

Dr Forde is helping postdocs to examine critically their CVs in terms of what experience and skills they will need if they are seeking a fellowship or lectureship. She works with them to identify what they have already achieved and what they must improve to get their ideal job - this includes posts outside as well as inside higher education.

"There aren't enough permanent or long-term career provisions in academia for all postdocs," Dr Forde said.

"We want to keep talent in higher education, but we have an open mind and thus also want to help people explore other options," she said.

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