I’m a PhD student. How do I go on to the next stage of my career?

Thinking about moving from a PhD to a postdoc? Don’t panic!

Feeling confused or overwhelmed about your life after a PhD?

Don’t worry! You have choices. You have transferrable skills.

How can you navigate this key career change? What are the issues to consider? 

The move from PhD to postdoctoral researcher is a tricky one. It is perhaps the most important move towards a full-time academic position (or a non-academic one, if you so choose).  

We hope this blog post will help! 

Should I even do a postdoc? 

First you might be thinking, “Should I even do a postdoc at all? What does this actually mean?”  

A postdoctoral, or “postdoc” is just the name we give to research work once a PhD has been awarded but before a full-time academic post has been attained. A postdoc position is usually an external fellowship or institutional position.  

It’s another step on that career ladder we’ve all talked about before and thought about a lot as researchers.  

If you love research, if you are good at research, and if this your passion (your chosen career path), then of course you should seek out a further research position after you finish your PhD.  

A lot of PhD students feel that they somehow must continue with research once they finish their PhD. They feel under considerable pressure to carry on doing research.  

Actually this should not be the case. After you finish your PhD there is no shame at all in moving into another position that has little to do with your PhD research!  There is absolutely no shame at all in deciding that enough is enough.  

What if I decide NOT to do a postdoc? Research is all I know! Help!

Transferrable skills are one of the keystones of our training here at Edanz Learning Lab.  

These are the skills that you learn in one area that you can later apply to other areas. We’ll cover these transferrable skills in more detail here in later posts here in our Expert Blog).   

So let’s step back, have a think. What kinds of transferrable career skills do we learn as early career researchers, working on our PhDs? Here are just a few of them: 

Transferrable career skills you have already learned as a PhD student: 

  • Presentation skills  
  • Organizational skills  
  • Data collection and analysis skills 
  • Networking skills 
  • Speaking skills 
  • Writing skills  

The list goes on and on. As you can see, studying and working for a research-based PhD equips you very well for life and work outside of academia. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!   

So even if you decide NOT to continue your research, you still have learned valuable skills that you can apply to non-research work.  

Do you need more advice or skills training in any area? Want to brush up on the all-important transferrable skills listed above? Get in touch with our Learning Lab team! We love questions. We are here to help.

What if I decide YES to doing postdoctoral research? 

Thinking about continuing to work in academia?  

Do you feel that carrying on in research is for you? Great! There’s no particular time to start the search for further opportunities.  

Opportunities for further research positions can come from a range of different angles. Here are just a handful:  

  • Advertised posts at universities or research institutes 
  • Positions in research groups 
  • Government or national fellowships 
  • Postdoctoral posts tied to larger research grants 

When is a good time to start the search and application process?  

There is an old Chinese saying: the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago

There is no better time than right now. Even when starting a PhD is a good idea to always keep your options open and look around for future opportunities. See where the main adverts are in your field and try to build connections with the key laboratories and workers across your research area.  

Networking is important of course; attending conferences and meeting other people in your field is important, but a lot of useful connection-building can be done online.

Do you have an online presence around your research? Do you blog about your work, or have a website? If not, do you have a profile on your lab site, or as part of a larger university site?) 

It’s important then to curate your online presence. Make sure you do have useful and informative content on academic social networking sites such as ResearchGate and academia.edu.

Build a Google Scholar profile and that you are using Orcid.org. All of these sites are important in order to ensure that other researchers around the world know about you and about your research.  

First impressions, especially online, are formed fast, so when considering that next career stage make sure you check, maintain, and curate your academic profile.  

How to find postdoc job opportunities? Network!  

Positions for finishing PhD students will be advertised. You’ll become aware of the major fellowships available in your field that you would be in a position to apply for, but…

Overwhelmingly, the most effective way to identify a post-PhD career opportunity is via networking!

We recommend talking about your research online, building an online presence as discussed, and then reaching out to other academics around the world with research you’ve got in progress or completed.  

Email out copies of your most recent article, or even partially completed drafts. After all, these will often be posted anyway onto preprints servers. Identify a pool of international leaders in your field who would be potential targets for postdoc positions and write to them, make contact, and talk about your research. Ask for advice on projects you are currently working on.

Communicate! You never know what will happen!  

Although postdocs are key members of the global research workforce, the actual process of finding that post-PhD position can be very opaque.  

Listservs and forum, discussion groups, will exist in your field, for sure, But often there is no central place where you can go to find open positions like you can with other kinds of jobs, such as faculty positions.

There is also no particular time of year when it’s better to apply for these positions (unlike for PhDs or Masters).

This is why regular, persistent communication is the key to finding postdoc positions.

So get out there now, communicate, and find your ideal postdoc job!

Conclusion: the time is NOW!

If you decide NOT to do a postdoc, don’t worry! You already have valuable skills that transfer well from research to other areas.

If you DO decide to do a postdoc, the key is to build your online presence and to keep up your communication.

Whether you DO or DO NOT decide to do a postdoc, either way, the time to take action is NOW! Good luck!


At Edanz, we can help by editing emails, letters, grant applications, and papers. Even developing ideas for postdoc proposals, review papers, and grants. Why not get in touch with our team to learn more?  

Edanz is a scientific research support service. We are committed to providing innovative solutions to the challenges faced by the international research community, from individual researcher and clinicians to large institutions. 

Edanz helps scientists reach their goals by providing guidance and support at every stage of research planning, execution, writing, and publication processes. Click here to learn more about our services.  

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