Running start... to a great career: Before finding a postdoc
Psychologists offer tips on selecting the right postdoctoral training program.
For one, it can be overwhelming to look for a postdoctoral training program while you’re working full-time as an intern and maybe even still working on your dissertation. And in contrast to the internship search, there’s not much structure or support. Says Phillips, “All of a sudden, it’s, ‘Spread your wings and fly. I hope you make it.’”
Although not all states require postdocs, most licensing boards require at least a year of supervised postdoctoral experience. (For neuropsychologists, the standard is two years.) To make the process of finding a postdoc less stressful, Phillips and others suggest these tips:
- Cast a wide net. Start your search with APA’s database of accredited programs and the Universal Psychology Postdoctoral Directory created by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC), which brings information about most formal postdocs together in one place. Keep an eye out for listings on APA, APA division and state psychological association listservs. Ask mentors and peers a year or two ahead of you. If you love your internship site, see if you can stay on. You can even try Google searches. “You have to be much more proactive when you’re looking for a postdoc than when you’re looking for an internship,” says Phillips.
- Focus on specialized training. “A postdoc shouldn’t just be about logging hours,” says rehabilitation psychologist Megan Hosey, PhD, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “A postdoc should be about filling gaps and helping to expand knowledge in ways that will ultimately get you the career you want.” Make sure a site will give you access to any particular patient population you want to work with and check that former fellows have job outcomes similar to what you’re seeking.
- Weigh the pros and cons of formal versus informal postdocs. If a site has APA accreditation or belongs to APPIC, you have some assurance of quality, says APPIC board member Wayne Siegel, PhD. Otherwise, because there’s no oversight, sites may not provide enough supervision or may make you work overly long hours. “It’s the wild west,” says Siegel. “It’s buyer beware.” On the other hand, a more informal position can mean greater flexibility. “I got to tailor all parts of my postdoctoral experience to what I wanted to do,” says Phillips, who created his own postdoc at a private practice and honed his skills in supervision and public speaking. “My supervisor left those opportunities up to me.”
- Seek support. In addition to APA’s postdoctoral education and training page, APPIC’s webinars and videos and other online resources, seek advice from mentors, supervisors and more experienced peers who can offer advice and reassurance. “You shouldn’t expect to do it all by yourself,” says Phillips.
For more information, see “Postdoc opportunities abound, if you know where to look” in Monitor on Psychology.
This column is geared toward early career psychologists working in practice settings. "Running start ... to a great career" features topics typically not covered in graduate school and includes tips and advice from psychologists.