The PostGraduate

Memoirs contiue, Tony Judt style. Thought I’d pen some words on the utility of a postdoc. This is obviously a highly subjective sentiment, since I was chided by some for pursuing one. It certainly isn’t something that should be attempted in lieu of a real job a la grad school. The typical progression is grad → ≥ 1 postdoc depending on the field → academia. I have and have never had the remotest intention of becoming a professor due to the inability of setting exam problems, an acute phobia of grading after a rather heavy TA assignment in 2007, and most of all, incomprehensible diction (I envy the character who plays me in Fellow Blogger’s skit). Anyway, despite being sartorially apt – tweed coat with elbow-patches etc. – for a faculty position, I chose the postdoc route. Why?

A postdoc is a 2nd PhD compressed into half the time taken for the first with no diploma as an incentive to boot. Ultimately, the desire to increase a paltry skill set and a grace period during which the next few steps in the career search would be hazily plotted out served as USPs. Grad research was definitely instructive but sorely needed the postdoc for fine-tuning. It helps even more to completely switch fields simply from the perspective of exploring strange territory, learning new modes of thought and encountering problems of varying natures. As with grad school, an ensemble average of the postdoc had an extremely positive value especially because of – and I’ve made this clear in a past post – the group I had joined. Group meetings took on an entirely different hue from what I was used to and were quite entertaining. The advisor-advisee relationship assumes an extra dimension, since the two of you are theoretically (or should I say diploma-tically) equally qualified although reality begs (or imperiously demands) to differ. You are now expected to handle multiple projects while at the same time performing social service as a role model for lower beings. Yes, I have generously clubbed grads & undergrads in the same category; boundaries blur with age and increased cerebral content.

It was heartening to note that industrial R&D joints don’t look askance at postdocs. Granted in Chem E, more than 1 postdoc sounds highly suspicious, since it reeks of the person not being competent enough to get a job. Questions about why you opted for one and why you are not taking the academic path might arise but the relevant answers should have been constructed by this point. Throw in corporate jargon for good measure: enhanced cognitive and behavioural skills (ECBS), magnified analytical prowess (MAP) etc. Demonstrate that students of science are just as adept at concocting racy acronyms and you’ll be ushered in as the next project manager.


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