PhD to research assistant instead of Post-Doc?


======= Date Modified 13 Apr 2011 12:18:11 =======
Hello, I was just wondering if anyone had any thoughts regarding moving to a research assistant position instead of the general step up to a 'post-doc' research position? My understanding is that the difference is essentially a drop of about 5k in terms of wages and you are a assistant to a research project rather than your own personal one.

My PhD in Biology has been a complete and utter disaster/failure, not really anyones fault and their isn't anyone specific to blame, the project was baddly planned and I was let down by funding, collaborators and a broken hypothesis.

Because of this I don't feel I have a chance whatsoever of moving onto a post-doc (My university also has a very poor research reputation) in a good research group and quite frankly I also think I have ALOT to learn regarding research in the context of a 'real' research group with 'real' quantifiable funding.

I am submitting my thesis soon and I feel what would be best for me is to try and find a research assistant position in a good group, prove myself and hopefully get on a bunch of research papers so I can move on to a full research associate position. Because my PhD has been such a failure I have tried to do other activities to try and make me more employable (I have 30 hrs + of under graduate lecturing experience and probably about 50hrs+ of additional teaching experience) but just wondering if anyone had any thoughts on my plan. Indeed good or bad?

Additional considerations is that because my PhD has been planned so poorly I have become abit of a character when it comes to the sheer number of biological techniques I can do. My materials and methods section is bigger that my introduction and results section put together. I also have no considerations in terms of finance (So long as I can survive and do research I'm happy) and have no issue with locations etc..

Any advice would be greatly appreciated :-)


You've a refreshing attitude! However, although I would suggest you apply for the posts that most interest you and which you would feel comfortable with doing, reading your post it seems as though you haven't been through the Viva and so if you pass it what's to stop you applying for post-docs? It's all learning...


Thanks for the input Delta,

I think you hit the 'nail on the head' as it were regarding your comment of "would feel comfortable with doing". If I do pass my viva, I do not feel I can fullfill all the requirements of being a full post-docturate researcher even if I somehow managed to get a position. My experience of working in a cohesive research group is practically zero (I've just been on my own for 3 years with whatever resources I could find).

I also feel that inorder to achieve my goals I would greatly benefit from being a part of a strong research group, because my PhD is poor I don't expect to be any more than a small part but non the less I think I will be happy with this as long as I have the oppertunity to prove myself.

I guess my quandry is whether or not a research group will be interested in someone with my back ground. A hard working individual, driven and determined with a bit of steal but has had a really poor PhD and a poor university with no publications but willing to take a lower position to prove what they can do?

As always any advice is greatly appreciated. :-)


Hey there Uncut! Firstly, given all the limiations you have had during your PhD, you've done remarkably well in persevering and being at the point of submission. Secondly, I'm not sure there is such a thing as a 'poor' PhD! I understand what you're saying, and perhaps you feel that it isn't your best work, but so long as you pass your viva then I don't think you could call your thesis 'poor'. If you feel you would benefit a lot from finding a decent team to work in and building your confidence up then I don't think it is a problem to take up a research assistant post- just bear in mind that in this position you might not have a lot of flexibility in terms of what you want to do or how the project is undertaken, and may not necessarily gain experience of writing papers and so on- it depends on the team and how it is organised, but you may well just be doing what you are told to do. So before you take a post, make sure that you will have ample opportunity to gain experience of whatever it is you need to work on. I know other PhD students who have taken up RA positions (mostly people who are looking for post-doc positions but struggling to find one, or are doing an RA position whilst writing grants for a post-doc or fellowship or whatever) and I don't think it will look bad so long as you aim for a more senior post following this, assuming you want to pursue a career in research. So if you find something suitable I would go for it! Good luck with the submission and the job hunt! Best, KB


The thing that strikes me is you seem very resilient and very resourceful which are both sought after qualities. Anyway, you'll only ever know if a research group would be interested in someone such as yourself by making applications. Do what you feel is right for you and do what makes you happy!

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 13 Apr 2011 19:07:30 =======
The fact you've kept going says alot about your character. That in itself is a selling point, along with all the different skills you say you've acquired.

Obviously, your first priority is to get a job and if that means taking up a Research Assistant position, do so. The fact you're actively in a position rather than waiting on your PhD results is a big plus in the employment market to follow. As I ran over by more than a year, I had to do the same whilst writing up and because I was actively in work, that helped me move onto a proper post-doc position following that (although that was a different story).

Secondly, you describe your PhD as a disaster and you're still submitting a thesis. You don't yet know what the outcome is and I can't understand your negativity on this point when clearly you're in a position to submit. The tme to judge success or failure is after viva and you know the outcome. So chin up "Uncutlateralus", you're still in the game!


Hi Uncutlateralus

Try putting someone else in your shoes (ie a succesful PhD person) , and maybe try and think how they would have fared in such a situation. It's quite possible that over the course of your PhD that you've acquired more skills and abilities than someone in a PhD that has worked superbly. The one thing you presumably do not have is papers, but not all top research groups junior post-docs to have papers. I would suggest you pay very close attention to your CV and brush up on interviewing skills, (that is once you are a fair way into wrting up and have a submission date).

For the record, i got my job (post-doc in lab at Russel group university medical school) after a PhD in a fairly average university. I did'nt have a particularly fab time of my PhD and haven't got any first authorships. I am on 2 second authorships and maybe more to follow, but at time of interview I was unpublished, so there is more to getting a post-doc position than a stellar publication record, although that helps. if your not too fussed re where and what I think you'll have a fair chance of landing something.

Good luck with the applications and writing up


Thank you all for your kind reply and your insights. It is valued!

I think some of your comments reinforced alot of my thinking. I do not want a full post-doc even if I could get one because I do not think I am up to it, I've been used to conducting research in a poor way.

I don't think i'm a terrible student, I've still got alot of learn and do but I think/hope I can be of use to a research group out there somewhere. I also take on board what Keenbean said regarding the limits of being a research assistant as oppose to a full post-doc. I'm actually cool with not having too much control over projects i'm involved in, quite frankly I've had far too much control in my PhD which is why it ended up such a disaster, I'm happy to pay my dues and actually learn the right way to conduct research rather than think I know how everything should be done.

I would still like to hear if anyone has any experience of this route. I.e. Obtained a poor PhD and went down the research assistant route at a good research group rather than start a full post-doc straight away? Additionally I wonder how easy it is to transfer from subject areas while doing this.

I appologise in advance for those not in this area but basically I wanted to stay in the field of microbiology, specifically I'm interested in the molecular basis for virulence but also microbial communities and taxonomy. Because my PhD has gone so wrong I've ended up doing proteomics, enzymeology and alot of Biochemistry. This was not what I wanted to do and if I knew it would end up like this I wouldnt of taken on the PhD. So anyway does anyone think dropping down to a research assistant as appose to trying for a full post-doc would be beneficial for me to attain this?