Urbana–Champaign, noted in a 2012 interview for Chemical and Engineering News3 that only a few companies had
recently recruited postdocs from the university’s School of
Chemical Sciences’ ranks of graduates. However, she added
that some companies, notably in the pharmaceutical industry,
had begun to expand their postdoc programs.
Simpson also noted that, in the wake of the Great Recession’s layoffs and cost-cutting campaigns, these companies
rely on postdocs to help maintain the momentum of innovation and regard the group as a source of future employees.
Even postdocs who do not remain with a particular company are seen as potential collaborators in their future roles
as academics, vendors and suppliers, and fellow members of
Competition for these scarce industrial postdoc positions
can be fierce, and work hours can be long and demanding.
Candidates must possess skills beyond technical proficiency.
Companies are looking for researchers who are passionate
and dedicated. They must have the curiosity and inventiveness to look outside of their own areas of specialization to
solve problems with innovative solutions that have practical
applications. Landing one of these positions requires much
more than answering ads and doing online searches. Graduate students who have devoted time and effort to making
themselves known to prominent researchers in their areas of
interest have a definite head start.
A Strategic Investment
A postdoc can be an opportunity to build experience and in-
crease your professional network, or it can be a long slog after
graduation with no clear payoff at the end. Academic institu-
tions sponsor a significant majority of postdoctoral positions,
even though most permanent positions for Ph.D. chemists lie
outside of academia. Some fields, notably biomedicine and
biotechnology, require postdoctoral experience as a condi-
tion of entry. Some corporations and national laboratories
use postdoctoral appointments as a way of vetting candidates
for permanent staff positions. Other employers place very
little value on postdoctoral experience.
1 It’s essential to find
out how employers in your area of interest view postdoctoral
experience before you make this major investment.
A well-planned nonacademic postdoc, focused on your
area of interest, can give you close-up, in-depth knowledge of
working environments outside the university. It can fill in and
solidify skill sets such as lab management, customer and user
support, independent research, and lab instrument experience. The people you meet and communicate with can become trusted colleagues and collaborators, and they can help
you connect with potential employers.
Doing a postdoc isn’t the only way forward for new
Ph.D.s. However, if you have plotted out your career objectives and a postdoc fits into the plan, it can be a strategic investment that gives you a competitive edge in the field of your
choice. Even if you’re taking a postdoctoral appointment as a
means of riding out a tough job market, bearing these factors
in mind can make the difference between running in place
and moving ahead. n
1. Committee to Review the State of Postdoctoral Experience in Scientists and Engineers; Committee on Science,
Engineering, and Public Policy; Policy and Global Affairs;
National Academy of Sciences; National Academy of Engineering; Institute of Medicine. The Postdoctoral Experience
Revisited. National Academies Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-
2. Kang, Kelly H. Employment of Postdoctoral Researchers at
Federally Funded R&D Centers Declined in 2013. National
Center for Science and Engineering Statistics InfoBrief,
December 2014. NSF 15-310.
3. Ainsworth, Susan J. “Finding a chemistry postdoc position
in industry.” C&E News, 2012, 90(37) Sept. 10, http://cen.
Kahn, Shulamit and Ginther, Donna K. Postdocs and Career
Outcomes of Biomedical Ph.D.’s. Presented at COSEPUP
Ad-Hoc Committee on Postdocs, December 13, 2011. (Kahn
2011, cited in NAS 2014 report)
National Science Foundation. Survey of Earned Doctorates,
National Lab Postdoctoral Programs Resource Guide (Last
revised 03/02/11). National Academies. http://sites.nation-
Nancy McGuire is a freelance science
writer based in Silver Spring, MD. She
has a Ph.D. in solid-state chemistry
and began her career doing applied
“ Candidates must possess skills beyond technical proficiency.
Companies are looking for researchers who are passionate and
dedicated. They must have the
curiosity and inventiveness to
look outside of their own areas of
specialization to solve problems
with innovative solutions that
have practical applications. ”