in reality the great amount of freedom places a much larger burden on you to fulfill institution expectations and to continue your own professional growth and development without the direct concern of others.
The first couple of weeks are filled with euphoria, especially as the highs from a newly minted PhD are still running fresh in your veins. Meetings involving university faculty and staff quickly fill your day to day schedule. Not to mention that your time with Human Resources (HR) will be the proverbial thorn in the side. Right out the gate, new tasks involving “grown-up” stuff like taxes, benefits packages, retirement plans, and insurance become a part of your new professional experience.
After the constant wave of people and meetings die down within the first few weeks then the quiet and lonesomeness sets in. From this point forward you can feel the independence. I found myself heavily relying on my PhD training to conduct comprehensive literature reviews in an attempt to build a new research project from the ground-up. The biggest difference between being a postdoc compared to a graduate student is that I do not get the day-to-day affirmation of the steps that I’m taking or the research ideas that I am coming up with; instead, I must find my own independent resources to bounce ideas off of and rely heavily on previously published works and my own scientific intuition to guide my research efforts. As a qualified doctor, I am very well capable of doing that; however, to do the process naturally requires a significant mental adjustment initially.
In regards to the change in mentality…perhaps the most unnatural part of the adjustment from doctoral student to postdoc is the new expectation of status that you are expected to carry. All of your life being a student does not directly prepare you for taking professional leadership roles amongst your new professional peers. This is where extracurricular and student leadership experience is so key. Those experiences really ease the anxiety associated with assuming those leadership roles.
All in all, the experience is a new one and many of the sensations experienced are foreign to your previous norms, but like anything else they grow on you and you adjust to the tasks.
Dr. Gabriel Burks is dedicated to increasing higher education awareness and showing aspiring scholars the power of science.