Tips on a smooth Ph.D. – Postdoc transition; avoiding the post-graduation blues
Completing my Ph.D. was truly an exciting time. Writing my thesis meant spending less time at the bench, which in turn meant less time in lab. While I was still faced with deadlines and projects to complete, I found a few more hours in the day than I normally would. I used this extra time to reflect on my graduate career and spend valuable time with the friends I had made along the way. During this “twilight period” I grew closer towards my lab-mates, friends, and city in which I lived. I also realized that I had, indeed, learned and accomplished so much in my Ph.D. – both scientifically and personally. The graduation ceremony was warm, but incredible. That day and the days surrounding it were full of comradery, laughs, and reflection. As a new Ph.D. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Then I left.
A few days after graduation I sold just about all I owned, drove across the country, and left behind amazing friends and family. I was excited to begin the next chapter of my career as a postdoctoral research fellow. But then post-graduation blues hit hard. Sure, anyone will tell you that this is common (if not a completely natural human response), and countless scientists have made this transition flawlessly before you. Furthermore, this is a similar situation that many would have already experienced transitioning from undergraduate to graduate school. But as true as they are, these anecdotes did not make the first few weeks in a new city and lab any less challenging. From my experience I found three things to consider during your Ph.D. to postdoc transition that can help smooth the process and avoid the post-graduation blues:
1. Give yourself time
When making my transition, I believed four days would be enough in between arriving in my new city and starting in lab. However, there were unforeseen issues abound and I spent three of my four days dealing with those as opposed to getting situated. I ultimately walked into the first week of my postdoc flustered and ill prepared. Looking back I wish I would have had longer to settle in, take care of ancillary issues as they appeared, prepare, and to just take a breath.
2. Get involved
Being a postdoctoral research fellow allows you to refine and build upon your scientific skill set, but is also a time to step out of your area of expertise and explore as much as possible. To help explore, take advantage of the long list of organizations at your new University that are available to graduate students – all of which should be open to postdocs as well. Additionally, your university likely has some form of postdoctoral association you can get involved with day one. If not, you can join the national postdoc association here. Being an active member of an organization during your postdoc can serve as a great “soft” skill builder, allows you to grow a vital network of peers, and breaks the monotony of bench work. Being able to meet others who may have experienced a similar transition can help as well.
3. Get focused
It is easy to get distracted; or even worse, get caught up in the fear of missing out during your Ph.D. to postdoc transition. This may leave you feeling less excited about your new opportunity than the day you first accepted the offer. To combat this, realize that it is never too early to start considering next steps after your postdoc. By identifying which kinds of opportunities you would like to pursue down the road you can be sure to further develop any pertinent skills during your time at your new university. Creating long-term goals will also put the experience of your postdoc into better perspective. Starting with something as simple as a hand-written goal sheet can provide structure to your transition and reignite the excitement.
Certainly not every Ph.D. to postdoc transition is accompanied by the post-graduation blues. But for those making a transition and find themselves unsettled it may be hard to start an important postdoctoral fellowship at full potential. If that is the case for you, consider taking some extra time off, research ways to get involved at your next institution, and develop a concrete plan of what you want out of your postdoc experience. Most importantly, know that the post-graduation blues will pass and you will orient yourself quicker than you might expect.
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