The many names of a postdoc researcher

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 Only a small fraction of researchers will stay in the Ivory Tower (another outdated term) and land into a professor position.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.

Is this diver a scientist?
Is this diver a scientist?

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