Postdoctoral research positions as preparation for an academic career

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Akerlind, Gerlese 

Discussions of the nature and purpose of postdoctoral contract research positions is an area where assumptions and stereotypes tend to predominate. This is due to (a) recent changes in the higher education sector that have impacted on postdoctoral positions in a way that conflicts with traditional expectations, and (b) a relative lack of data and publications on postdoctoral positions, which creates a climate in which stereotypes can continue relatively unchallenged. This is unfortunate, because it limits the ability of supervisors to provide sound career advice to their postdocs as well as the ability of postdocs to make informed career decisions.

Based on an extensive study of PDRs in Australia, this paper challenges four commonly held assumptions:

  1. that postdoctoral researchers want an academic career;
  2. that postdoctoral research positions provide a stepping stone to academic careers;
  3. that postdoctoral research positions provide an opportunity for novice researchers to become increasingly independent; and
  4. that postdoctoral research positions provide an opportunity for the incumbents to concentrate solely on research.

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University of Cambridge
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