Transition from PhD to post-doc


Hey people!

So I'm moving away and starting my new post-doc in 2-3 weeks time, and really looking forward to it now I'm recovering from all the PhD submission/viva-related stress.

I know there are a few post-docs on the forum and I was just wondering what the biggest differences/changes are in moving on to a post-doc? I can work some of it out from seeing post-docs on my team, but was wondering if anyone has any words of wisdom or things that really struck you when you were making the same transition?

Any observations would be much appreciated!
Cheers, KB


Hey KB,

I am glad to see your transition :-) I just want to wish you good luck with your next adventure!! (up)

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

======= Date Modified 15 Sep 2011 09:33:29 =======
Theoretically a lot less stressful.  The employment side certainly should be.  It depends on the post-doc, however.

1) If EPSRC / ESRC or similar, then they will look for sufficient output over the (normally) two years of the project to justify them putting out a grant for it (and in many cases renewing the grant.  If you manage to bung out say 3 papers a year of good original content, that keeps them happy. ERDF funding is fairly similar.

2) If you have an industrial sponsor (sometimes in combination with a funding body), then they will scrutinise your work to varying degrees.  Regular reports will be expected and whilst papers may be expected, this may be watered down due to commercial confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.

3) The third factor, as with PhD, are the people you're working with and the general atmosphere around the department. Therefore as with PhD, choosing the right place and project for post-doc is important. No change there from PhD!!!

As your average journal paper is a snappier affair compared to the good old thesis in terms of size and quantity of data, then stress levels should be much lower than during the latter stages of PhD.  It's easier to set yourself goals as you can now break down your work into individual studies rather than a single large volume.

Most post-docs are in the same boat as you in that they've just come off PhD and are just relieved the thing is out the way.  It's common for many to use the post-doc period as a quiet year (in the case of women) / quiet couple of years (in the case of men) to get their heads together and decide what exactly their next plans are.  For some reason, women seem to recover more rapidly than men.

However, a few do remain stress heads and I had difficulties in my second post-doc due partially to one girl remaining in stress head mode as she'd clearly never had that pause after the end of her PhD (the personality of the group head was the other problem - but I digress).  You'll also find a fair few who've entered post-doc as a continued source of finance whilst still writing up their PhDs (i.e. me with my first post-doc); it's inevitable these people will be less productive as they're also still in stress mode.


But, there is also the personal side.

You've found already that the wind down period from PhD isn't a sudden stop.  It took me ten days after handing in my hard bound copies to feel like a normal person again and on reaching that point, it is a sudden bump.  All of a sudden you'll ask "What now?"  That is one reason I mention the quiet few years issue above, as all of a sudden the PhD is just not there anymore.

That quiet period is useful in more than one way.  As well as taking a time out to decide where you're own life is going (academia, lecturing, research or back to the real world), it's also a chance to sort out your personal life.  PhDs can be extremely damaging to personal relationships, for example, as there's this other demanding, needy thing overshadowing you life and relationships.  Once all done, it's no longer there but the personal damage can take months if not longer to repair as simply put, all you've been is this shadow slaving in the background rather a real flesh and blood person.

As said elsewhere, you need time to heal and the time needed can vary from person to person.

I mention the issue of relationships on my blog (though at a PhD level) at

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


For me, given I'm in a subject where postdocs are few and far between, it was the oddness of negotiating the difficult ground between not being a student any more but also not feeling properly like a member of staff. And the realisation that there was so much going on that I'd been unaware of as a PhD student in terms of the different and conflicting pressures on staff.
My top tip - don't avoid PhD students neccessarily but don't get drawn into their complaints about their supervisors - keep a slight distance.


Thanks all, especially Mackem for your detailed reply.

The position is funded by the NHS and I will be taking over the project from someone else, so I have a relatively good idea of what that will involve. I've been working in the NHS for my PhD so am at least familiar with a lot of the paperwork and procedures. The team seem really nice and friendly, although it's hard to know for sure what the working atmosphere is like until I get there. I've worked in a lovely team for my PhD (despite issues with supervisor), so I hope it's the same at the new place.

I am looking forward to not having the long-term pressure of the PhD, although I have 3 papers from my PhD under review that are due back any day which I will have to attend to, and am also giving two presentations related to my PhD results in the USA soon after I start my new job, so it sort of feels like I haven't quite got rid of the PhD yet! My current sup also wants me to write more papers from it, but I will have to prioritise, obviously.

It will also be good to spend more time with my other half, who is moving with me. We got together in my second year of my PhD and got engaged about 6 months ago, and he's been fab putting up with my workload and stress, but it will be nice to be able to concentrate on enjoying ourselves a bit more than we have been able to! I've also just been put on new meds to get rid of the horrible anxiety and panic attacks I've been having, and am finally feeling back to normal, so am beginning to get excited about the changes now instead of stressing about them!

Thanks again for your pearls of wisdom. Bewildered- that's the thing I was most concerned about- not being a student any more but being on different territory and also getting used to perhaps less supervision and new responsibilities.

Cheers, KB


======= Date Modified 07 Feb 2012 11:20:22 =======
============= Edited by a Moderator =============


======= Date Modified 15 Sep 2011 19:49:44 =======
Hey Phdbug, thanks so much for your thoughts.

I am a bit nervous about the different pressures etc, but also aware that other people might find it hard to empathise when it seems like you have everything you should need to be happy. I don't really unload this type of stuff onto my 'real-life' friends- I have been a lot more forthcoming on this forum than I have been with anyone else, except very close friends who have already experienced similar problems. Most of my time is already spent helping and supporting others (that's the nature of my research, my voluntary work, and my private life!) and keeping my issues to myself in my non-forum life, and that's how I like it! Perhaps I have unloaded too much on here recently, I just try to keep things away from people who are close to me in real life as they only worry too much after how ill I've been in the past. But you are right- I know others would find it hard to empathise and I can understand why.

I guess I will have a lot less contact with my friends and my existing team-mates, and that is the primary concern for me really. I have been in the same place for 8 years and my closest friends are here. Also, I am moving into a different subject area (moving into bipolar research from dementia research) and of course the bipolar side of things will be very close to home for me, but that is the area that I have wanted to pursue for a long time. It does mean that I'll have to get onto the publishing and grant writing side of things very quickly though, in an area that is completely new to me from an academic perspective.

Anyway- have you celebrated your brilliant success yet? I hope that you've found some time to unwind and that things get better for you in your job. It sounds like you've been having a rough time and I hope things pick up for you...and your words of advice are really valued.

Cheers, KB


======= Date Modified 07 Feb 2012 11:20:34 =======
============= Edited by a Moderator =============


I've been doing a postdoc now for about 2 years in the same group I was doing my PhD, to be honest day to day doesn't feel much different, I work basically the same was I always did helping out the PhD students and project students and basically managing the lab. All of which I was also doing when I was a PhD student basically because there was never a Post Doc in the group before. The only obvious difference really is the fact that I don't have a thesis hanging over me, instead I'm writing papers, and instead of worrying about what I'll do when I finish I'm wondering if we'll get a grant to keep me on.