PhDs…Go for a Post-Doc
Iwrote in my previous blogs how I did PhD for a practical reason without a significant interest in research. There were multiple reasons for it, all highlighted in various blogs previously.
Another thing that I planned during my PhD was to immediately settle in some kind of teaching job in Pakistan where I can spend the rest of my life. As accepted earlier, this was a mistake. Being in academia is much more than just having a PhD and doing a teaching job, though I am personally convinced that :
Pakistan, at this moment of time, requires PhDs who can focus on quality teaching and creating rich content for their students.
However, I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
Attempting to Settle Down after PhD
For me, settling down in a job soon after PhD was not just due to the ease of it but also what I was witnessing during my PhD. My supervisor himself joined his university in a research and teaching job (although he was smart enough to pursue research independently). At least in the group I was working in, only 1–2 PhD graduates went for a post-doc. Since a number of them were from Pakistan on scholarships from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan, they were obliged to go back. And those who were not themselves either went to the industry or joined a university. And there were only 1–2 post-docs in our group who did their PhD elsewhere.
Benefit of Pursuing Post-Docs
For someone intending to pursue a career in academics, pursuing a post-doctoral research fellowship (post-doc), in my opinion, is very important. A post-doc research fellowship is important in many aspects. Typically, PhDs seem to get hooked to the research topic they pursued during their PhD. Sometimes, in my case at least, this can be due to fear of pursuing something entirely new because of lack of knowledge and expertise. One can only build expertise by working on it but working on something entirely new or significantly different from your PhD research area requires a mentor or a senior researcher, which might not always be available. A post-doc under a new supervisor in another institute can help alleviate this fear and problem and provide expertise in a different area.
For e.g., my PhD was spent working on efficient architectures for finite impulse response (FIR) and particle filters. I worked extensively with VHDL and SystemVerilog with some work using the Gurobi optimizer for synthesizing efficient FIR filters in the logarithmic number system (LNS) domain. The field of FIR filters is very saturated and although one can still find new avenues for innovation, I was finding it hard to do that (plus a number of other reasons highlighted in my reluctant researcher blog series). I wanted to look into a number of different things which can be at least partially built on my current expertise, like architectures of high performance computing systems on FPGAs using OpenCL or neural networks for embedded systems. But I was constantly hitting a wall in terms of where to look, what to do, who to consult.
Benefits of Post-Doc
My current post-doc, albeit only 8 months old, has helped me tremendously to tap in the expertise of my supervisor and group to get answers to what I was looking for. It has allowed me to diversify my career, something that I was acutely looking for. Another aspect of a post-doc is the opportunity to work in a different environment which can help one to get out of one’s comfort zone which can happen due to working in the same environment for a number of years during PhD.
From my perspective, I have been able to work in a new and different environment and the learning curve has been sharp. For e.g., during my PhD, I used to have my own room which was only shared with one fellow PhD and during my years as an assistant professor, I used to have my own private space as well. In my post-doc, I am sitting in an open plan lab with multiple PhD and post-docs. The new environment was challenging in the beginning as I was not used to it, but slowly I have adapted and sitting together with different people can lead to very interesting discussions. Asking for help is also a lot more easy. It has also allowed me to witness different work ethics, habits, ways of writing papers, conducting research and what not. So much so, that I will be happy to pursue another post-doc beyond this one.
One more benefit of a post-doc is that you get ample time to do research, specially if one does not have any teaching duties. Teaching, though rewarding, can sometimes bog you down with lots of administrative duties. With no to minimal teaching, there is a chance to experiment with different things, learn new things, write blogs (as I am doing). In addition to this, if the post-doc is based on funding received on self submitted research proposal, like I got for the current position, it allows one to have ownership of the research and a lot of independence to do it while also allowing one to carve out ones own path. Certainly more than getting employed for a post-doc position based on an existing funding to another more experienced researcher.
If the post-doc is in another country then there is the opportunity to live in a new culture and meet new people. One also starts to appreciate different countries and admire them more and criticize less. I had my complaints with Sweden and Pakistan but after living in Ireland for a while, I have realized all countries have their good points and it is about enjoying what is good to offer and patiently endure the not so good ones.
Go Early for Post-Docs
Finally, it is very important to go for a post-doc position early after PhD. Firstly, a number of post-doc fellowship program put a limit on how ‘old’ one’s PhD is and prefer fresh graduates. Secondly, you don’t want to be wandering between different post-docs late into your career and every one of us likes to settle down in a permanent position eventually. I didn’t go for a post-doc immediately, but luckily was able to get the current position after ‘3’ years of my PhD graduation, which though not very early, is certainly not very late. Happy hunting for your post-docs.