Postdoc. Who is actually that?
The question strike me once more while attending the Postdoc Forum Austria 2016 event in Vienna, Austria. And once more while listening Episode 14: Are you still a scientist? of the Recovering Academic podcast.
I think that we tend to forget that “postdoc” is a actually an adjective, not a noun. One is a “postdoc researcher“, i.e., s/he is a researcher that completed the doctorate training and was awarded a Ph.D. degree. But how long can you be “post-” your Ph.D.? More importantly, what does this reflect on how people perceive you?
The view that I have developed over the years is that this term is anachronistic, referring to a time where (almost) everyone would get a tenured professor position in a University. In the past, the postdoctoral period of a researcher was the time between the Ph.D. being awarded and landing in a tenure (hopefully!) or tenure-track professor position. Why then call it in first place “postdoctoral” and not “pre-professorship“? I discussed in a previous post how far from reality this straightforward path is nowadays. Hence, we should change it to reflect current reality.
I consider it problematic also in the sense of timespan. See the difference in the perspective: “how many years after the Ph.D.” vs. “how many years before the tenure-track professor?“. The former can be an eternal state and one never notices. The latter gives a more clear goal and deadline to reach it. Still, both are problematic in my opinion. Only a small fraction of researchers will stay in the Ivory Tower (another outdated term) and land into a professor position. Why should this period be named after this preparatory step of the very few and not of the majority of the researchers?
If you are a “postdoc” please do a favor to yourself and switch to a “researcher with a Ph.D.” or “senior researcher“. You educated yourself and developed skills to be able to perform research and advance human knowledge. Thank you!
And one last thing. You are a scientist by your undergraduate education. No matter where you work, you still apply the scientific knowledge and scientific methods you learnt at the university. An alumni entrepreneur launching a new product to the market is not less a scientist than a alumni researcher finding a new drug to cure an illness. Both try to make the world a better place through science.