Guest post by Dr Laura Smith, BBSRC-funded postdoctoral researcher, Dept. of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology.

new-bbsrc-colourThe BBSRC has released a new ‘Vision for Post-doctoral Researchers’. It’s a sort-of mission statement on how it expects their post-doc researchers to be supported by their host institution and how post-docs should engage in activities to aid in their professional development. It has made for interesting reading, and as a BBSRC funded post-doc, has highlighted some elements I feel I should work on, as well as things that my department could do to help my career development.

One of the first things highlighted (which was nice to read!) is the identification of the value post-docs have in contributing to the UK’s world-leading bioscience research, and how the BBSRC aims to address the needs of this important community. They say:

Postdocs are the vital engine of research and without them the UK would be unable to deliver world-leading bioscience research and research outcomes

The UK bioeconomy (from academia to SMEs and large research-intensive companies ) relies on their high research productivity, and the new knowledge and networks that they create

Postdocs benefit wider society by deploying their high-level skills into all sectors of the economy, through knowledge exchange and by engaging the public with science

A critical mass of talented postdocs in the UK attracts co-investment from the private and third sectors, including inward investment from international companies, who seek to benefit from the high-level skills of the postdoc workforce

Postdocs play important roles in supporting the supply-chain of highly-skilled bioscientists as mentors and trainers for undergraduate and postgraduate students

To do this it suggests a 3-way responsibility for post-doc career development

  • From the BBSRC as the research funder;
  • The grant-holding institution; and
  • From the post-doc researchers themselves.

The BBSRC pledges to create a strong network of researchers and has recently launched initiatives such as a LinkedIn group for BBSRC post-docs to help facilitate in making connections across institutions.

The role of the host institution is to contribute to the development of a post-doc and ensure that training opportunities are available. I feel that the University does do this, predominately through Think Ahead, with numerous methods to help aid our career progression.

The important point is to take these opportunities up!

I have been on the 6-month fellowship writing course for example which was there to encourage us to take responsibility for our academic career (just one career option post-PhD) and to start to think about what, how and where we want to do research. This is just one of many activities available, and helps fit in with the BBSRC’s vision that they “envision post-doc research as a stepping stone to a scientific career”. If academia is not the path of choice after research, the BBSRC also recognises this and suggests methods to widen the knowledge of other career opportunities available. This is facilitated in the University in multiple ways including v i s t a seminars by researchers who have moved into alternative careers, as well as workshops on science policy, and the biotechnology industries etc. These are just a few examples, based on my experience, on how the BBSRC’s vision for me has been aided by the University and serves to show that most post-doc needs can be addressed in one way or another depending on what they are. We just need to take them!

Most importantly, it is me who needs to carve my future and use my time as a post-doc wisely and to make informed career choices. The research I do will always be the key part of my role and ensuring that this benefits society (I work on M. tuberculosis, so any new insight will be beneficial), but I need to ensure that I am spending some time focusing on my development and ensuring I complete other tasks the BBSRC expects of me. These currently include (1) communicating my research to the public which I do through co-ordinating a ‘CSI workshop’, a day-long research day aimed at A-level students to give them an insight into life as a scientist, and (2) to train junior researchers which I do through supervising undergraduate and PhD students in the lab, and carrying out tutorials for undergraduates.

These activities, along with the career development opportunities I take from the University, are helping shape me as an employable person and aiding my career progression (in whichever career I choice, as I am still not certain!). In short, the BBSRC’s vision for post-doctoral researchers has helped me to fully understand my value and that although I am on a fixed-term contract, how I spend these three years will substantially benefit me in the future.

Laura

BBSRC Postdoc enquiries email address postdoc.researchers@bbsrc.ac.uk