09 February 2010

Setting Postdoc Goals

Prior to the weekly meeting with my mentor last Friday, Petra emailed me to say that we would be developing a one page mentoring plan for NSF.  Beginning April 2010, all NSF proposals that request funding for a postdoc will require a mentoring plan.  There was a little confusion, since ultimately this requirement doesn't affect me.  I'm funded by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.  However, we decided that this would be a good exercise for both of us anyway.

My immediate reaction to her email was to google what was out there.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Surely other postdocs have done this and someone has posted an example.  Nada.  I did find a nice IDP (individual development plan) at UCSF that outlines an exercise to help postdocs think about their skills, career goals, and annual goals.  The IDP is designed primarily for life science grads and postdoc trainees.  As I went through the questions on the form I could see that with some modification, it would also be useful for social scientists. 

I showed the IDP to Petra during Friday's meeting.  And she set in motion the exercise that brings me here - setting goals.  I spent the better part of this afternoon thinking about the projects I will be working on for Petra as part of ALCCAR, but also my own research in Mozambique that I need to continue analyzing and writing up for publication.   I filled four pages in my lab notebook and numerous pieces of scratch paper during my brainstorming session with the projects Petra wants me to work on as well as my own stuff.  Now that I think about it, I could have used the whiteboard in my office.  I only planned the timeline through May 2010 though.  Summer research in Ghana begins in June, and at this time I am not sure when I will be in Africa.  Planning out my field research schedule for Mozambique was sort of like this, but really I don't think anything in grad school fully prepared me for developing my career.

Eugene Russo writes in his 2004 Nature article that postdocs need to "map out their own path."

Successful, quick postdoctorates are most likely when students take at least as much responsibility for their own training as the institutions and faculty do.
Sitting down to think about my priorities - both for the year and for my career - wasn't something that I thought I would be doing.  But further reading on the internet suggests I'd be a fool not to do so, particularly given the current employment climate.   I like research and teaching, but do I want the high pressure environment of a Tier I research university or something a little less stressful?  What would that look like?  Will I fit into a traditional anthropology department?  Or is my interdisciplinary take a little to broad or narrow?  Would I be employable in say a geography department?  Is my interdisciplinary background a help or a hindrance?   Should I just give up on academia and look for work with an NGO or governmental-type agency?

Then there is the professional development component to postdoc skill growth that goes beyond the How to Write a CV, Give a Job Talk, or Create a Good Powerpoint.  These are all valuable skills but not the sum total of professional development.  I knew this and had tried doing some of this while I was working on my doctorate, but now these activities have become really important.  Networking, brainstorming future research plans and papers, attending a few interesting seminars that could inform my research, catching up reading that I missed while dissertating, and creating research and writing schedules/timelines are some of the things I'm now working on.

So far, I've attended seminars in indigenous knowledge, ethnohistory, and gender & climate change in my efforts to network with folks outside the geography department, and learn something new and different.  Yesterday I registered for a professional development conference at PSU sponsored by Graduate Women in Science.  I also sent in my dissertation abstract to an interdisciplinary working group, DISCCRS, that hosts annual symposiums for newly-minted scientists studying climate from all sorts of perspectives to network and gain additional research and communication skills.  It is the first step in their symposium application process.  All of these groups have already started sending me notices about resources online.  A definite next professional development step is to figure out how to be more efficient with my email.

My final step in this goal setting process will be to post my final IDP here as an example.   :)

Additional Resources:

Masur, S.K. and S.L. Schmid. 2009. Goal setting and time management for postdocs.  Presentation MSSM Postdoctoral Program.

Russo, E. 2004. Fast track: charting the course of your postdoc. Nature 431: 1126-1127.

Ali, L. and B. Graham. 2000. Moving on in your career: a guide for academic researchers and postgraduates. Routledge.  (online sample)

Feibelman, P.J. 1993. A PhD is not enough: a guide to survival in science. Basic Books. (online sample)

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