The majority of graduate students have entered into higher education and postdoctoral training to land careers in academia. Unfortunately, times have changed and postdoctoral training is not a fast guarantee for an academic career.

At this time, there are limited number of available faculty positions for many postdocs and PhD holders searching for a job. This situation then generates a problem: many postdocs are trapped in the same waiting list, causing them to stay perpetually in their position and compete with each other for the same job.

After researching for a faculty position, you might start to worry about your future. Your research revealed how other accomplished postdocs have struggled to land an academic job, and now you wonder whether someday you will leave this position.

Although necessary, many postdocs are probably unfamiliar with the process of developing their career (Sinche, 2016, pg. 3). Therefore, this article is geared to help postdocs start their career development and build their skills to move into the next career phase.

Moving Forward to Find More Career Options

Career development is a way to improve, keeping yourself more competitive for the job market. In this process, you will link your interests to career fields and improve your skills (Sinche, 2016, pg. 11).

Below are the stages of career development:


To go through the four stages of career development, you start by self-assessment (Sinche, 2016, pg. 11). Ask yourself some helpful questions during this process, such as:

  • What is your education background?
  • What are your interests?
  • What are your skills?
  • Why did you choose a career in science?
  • Do you want to stay strictly science, or use your expertise in other ways?
  • Do you enjoy working in a group or alone?
  • Are you interested in working at a company, a university, or a government agency?
  • What is your priority among your values (such as a high salary, a flexible schedule, a work from home job, or a frequent travel)?
  • Where do you want to live?
  • What type of activities do you like the most and what inspired you as an undergraduate student, a graduate student, and a postdoc?
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses in my current position?
  • What areas do I need to improve?
  • What do I like about my current position, and what do I dislike?

You can also ask for more inputs from your friends, family, colleagues, or mentor to learn more about yourself. Another way is by finding a career counselor in your institution to help you performing self-assessment.

Career Exploration

After you reflect and learn more about yourself, you are ready to explore different types of careers and the necessary skills required for your careers of interest (Sinche, 2016, pg. 11). In this process, write down information about the required skills with the skills that you already have.

career development for postdoc, self assessment, career exploration, job search

Goal Setting

For the next process, write down a list of required skills that you still need to build (Sinche, 2016, pg. 11).Make a plan and put it in your priority list to develop those skills to be competitive for pursuing your career of interest. It is also useful to research what others have gone through and done to fit the skills required for a particular job.

Job Search

In this process, you start your job search and prepare your application. In addition to job search websites (such as LinkedIn) and recruiters, network your way into your career of interest.

Alternatively, look deep into your volunteering activities (Sinche, 2016, pg. 11). For example, if you like being in a committee on student affairs and recruiting a guest speaker for a symposium, these clues may lead you to a path involving managing scientific collaborations. Another example is if you enjoy volunteering to teach kids about science at local schools, consider transitioning into teaching.

However, what if, after going through this process, the answer is for you to stay in academia. What should you do to leave a postdoc position to land a job in academia?

Moving Forward to Find a Faculty Position

For some postdocs who love to be in the academia, but they don’t want to be a professor, there are some alternative careers. These positions includes a licensing associate, a science core facility technician, a research investigator, a laboratory manager, a research development officer (to manage grants), or a biosafety coordinator (Levine, 2016).

However, if you still want to pursue an academic professor, find a college or university that is a good fit for you. In order to do that, you may want to explore these questions for your self-assessment:

  • Which one do you like better: a position with a heavier teaching load or one with a heavier research load?
  • Would you prefer to teach undergraduate students or graduate students?
  • Where do you prefer to be located: A city or a rural area?
  • Would you be willing to move from your current area to another location?
  • Is the value of the college or university similar to your value?
  • What is the policy of the college for promotion, tenure, family life, and work-life balance?
  • How do other colleagues support new professor in pursuing tenure?

The next steps will be similar to the last three steps of career development: career exploration, goal setting, and job search. By doing so, you may need to build more game-changing skills required to be competitive for an academic position.

For example, to land an academic position with more research requirements, add valuable skills, such as writing your own grant and publishing in journals with high impact factors. On the other hand, to land a position with more teaching loads, add valuable experiences, such as teaching more variety of classes for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Keep in mind that there are satisfying career options for you, when you are ready to move on from your postdoc position. It is less likely that an academic job will just land smoothly on your lap, particularly after you stay too long as a postdoc in your university. Therefore, in order to move forward, you must take an initiative to develop strategies to pursue your next job.


Academic Careers. (n.d.). Career & Internship Center | University of Washington. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from

Doctor, Career. Jul. 9, C., 2004, & Am, 8:00. (2004, July 9). How to Avoid the Postdoc Trap. Science | AAAS.

Levine, A.G. Aug. 26, A. G., 2016, & Pm, 2:00. (2016, August 26). Alternatives to professorships in academia. Science | AAAS.

Sinche, Melanie V. Next Gen PhD : a Guide to Career Paths in Science. Harvard University Press, 2016.

The postdoc series: Help for lost postdocs : Naturejobs Blog. (n.d.). Blogs.Nature.Com. Retrieved July 9, 2020, from

What did your job search teach you? : Naturejobs Blog. (n.d.). Blogs.Nature.Com. Retrieved July 9, 2020, from

Woolston, C. (2020). Seeking an ‘exit plan’ for leaving academia amid coronavirus worries. Nature.