postdocs -- ask your mentor

Bart Janssen bjanssen at
Thu Aug 14 13:03:05 EST 1997

Judith Gibber wrote:

> Sabine wrote:
> > Nearly everyone refers to post-docs as a "period of training,"
> > which I find somewhat confusing. Aren't you supposed to have sort
> > of finished your education after approximately 10 years in College
> and On Wed, 13 Aug 1997, Bart Janssen wrote:
> >
> > 1)  A post-doc should not be and is not a training period.  If a
> It sounds like both of you entered graduate school in the last decade
> or so, when the position of postdoc had undergone a major change.
> For most of this century, that is exactly what a post-doc was,
> a fellowship that allowed PhD's an extra year or two of training
> in an area somewhat different from that of the doctoral work.
> <snip>

> But what I find particularly sad is that you young 'uns see a postdoc
> as a
> low-paid, entry-level job, rather than as an opportunity to train in a
> new
> area.  Egad!  I feel like an ol' geezer here!

Hi there ol' geezer :)

You're right, for a very long time it was expected (particularly of the
better scientists) that after their PhD they would spend time working in
another lab prior to finding a full time position.  But the key
differences with what happened in the past and now are that way way back
then in the dim dark distant past (30 years ago :)), it was the better
scientists that took that route because only the better scientists could
get the fellowships required for that"extra experience/training".  Jim
Watson had a personal fellowship that paid all his salary and expenses,
I'm sure Linus Pauling had similar independant funding.  Moreover, those
fellowships were very generous for the time.  Furthermore, instead of
being considered cheap labour (as many post-docs are now) visiting
fellows/post-docs used to be given all the respect and consideration of
fellow scientists.  They were considered the equal of established
faculty.  They were treated as genuinely valuable members of the

It is extremely rare for present day post-docs to be treated with any
such respect.  Remember also that for Linus Pauling and Jim Watson there
was no question that they would have jobs when they returned "home".

All that means is that the post-doc is a completely different job from
what it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago.  Has the change been for the


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