Physicist Catherine Crouch Recounts Post-Doc Experiences

Nature.com: Postdoc or not?

March 21, 2012

Life-sciences graduates interested in academic research typically need to do at least one postdoc. For physics students, there are multiple caveats to consider. ...

Physicists with experience in US industry warn that a CV with three or more academic postdocs can create the impression that the applicant had hoped for a career in academia and does not really want one in industry. ...

The requirements are different for those seeking a government or academic research post, including at US liberal-arts colleges. Catherine Crouch, a materials physicist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, completed two postdocs at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she earned her Ph.D. In the first, she focused on physics-education research, with some teaching duties; in the second, she specialized in experimental research in a liberal-arts environment - important at Swarthmore, a liberal-arts college that heavily weights faculty research. As well as honing her research, she says, the fellowships taught her how to run a lab independently - and signalled to potential employers that she was capable of such.

"When academic hiring committees are reviewing job applications, they look for a postdoc as evidence that you've had this kind of responsibility - how to run a research programme, how to pick good projects, how to decide what equipment will serve you well," she says. "There are all these meta-questions that don't necessarily come into your arena as a graduate student."

A postdoc expands young physicists' networks far beyond what they can typically achieve as a doctoral student, says Eric Jensen, chair of Swarthmore's physics and astronomy department. "It gives you the chance to build more collaborations and develop a network of colleagues at other institutions that you can be in touch with and work with," he says.

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