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202. Academia Has a Postdoc Problem

A few generations ago, you could probably graduate from a PhD program and immediately land yourself a junior faculty position at a nearby university. But as grad school enrollment grew, a new quasi-professional job-description emerged in the nebulous middle ground between student and professor.

Lacking a better name, we just called them ‘postdocs’. It was an academic adolescence that implied they were ready to leave the nest, but not quite ready to fly freely.

Over time, academic institutions realized they had a good thing going. Here was a group of highly-skilled scientists who could churn out papers and grants with little oversight. And as a bonus, you didn’t have to pay them a salary commensurate with their position! They were ‘putting in the time’ in the hope that they, too, could one day run their own lab. “Think of it as an ‘investment.'”

The one-year postdoc/job search evolved into a two-year affair. Then it grew to two two-year affairs (in different labs, of course, so you can broaden your horizons!). Now, a postdoc may last 5 or 6 years, earning around $55,000 per year, and there’s still no guarantee of a faculty job light at the end of the tunnel.

But about ten years ago, something changed. The number of PhDs continued to rise, but the proportion of those graduates pursuing a postdoc declined.

What caused this shift, and what does it mean for academia and research in general?

We talked with a journalist who has been tracking the trend for years.

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189. Crafting an Unforgettable Job Talk w/ Dr. Andres De Los Reyes

Think about your favorite action movie that kept you on the edge your seat. Did it look certain that the hero would fall, only to emerge at the very last moment to save the day? Now picture a great movie trilogy or TV series. Did each episode introduce a dangerous cliffhanger at the end, enticing you to watch the next installment to see how the tension would resolve?

Those filmmakers know something about storytelling – crafting a narrative arc that brings the audience along for an exciting ride. Within just a few hours, they have to introduce you to the characters, invest you in their stories, and then take you along on a journey of conflict and resolution.

This week, we talk about how your scientific presentation or job talk can use those same storytelling tools to engage an academic audience, and maybe even land you a new job.

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150. Rediscover Your Scientific Passion

Nadia wanted to help patients. She had considered going to medical school, but found biomedical research to be an exciting opportunity to develop new knowledge and therapies.

After graduate school, she continued her training as a postdoc. She was on the faculty-track, making plans for her project and her next career advancement.

Then, COVID hit.

She was living and working in New York City as the largest pandemic in a century unfolded around her. She realized she had developed some skills over her years of training – PCR, data management, lab operations – that might make a difference in patient outcomes.

So she pressed pause on her postdoctoral work to start a clinical testing lab that now runs 60,000 COVID tests each week.

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