Simple steps for supporting postdoc career development
Date: 04 May 2022
Dr Andrew Holmes, Research Staff Developer, University of Liverpool
Dr Fiona McBride, Research Staff Developer, University of Liverpool
Dr Eamon Dubaissi, Research Staff Developer, University of Liverpool
Short-term contracts are a reality of postdoc life, compelling postdocs to apply for new positions as projects draw to an end. For many postdocs, especially those on work visas, this can feel like an unceasing cycle of job seeking. Submitting job applications is demanding, time consuming and sometimes disappointing; it’s a process that can be hard to watch when you just want the best for both your project and your postdoc.
Expectations and the role of PIs
Postdoc skills inventories
Academic and non-academic CVs
LinkedIn and networking
Expectations and the role of PIs
This part of the session explored the role of a PI/manager of researchers and what is and is not expected of them in terms of supporting postdoc career development.
Hello. I am Dr Andrew Holmes, and I’m a research staff developer on Prosper based at the University of Liverpool. In this short video we’re going to be looking at the expectations placed on PIs and managers of researchers, what is expected of them, and also what isn’t expected of them. So let’s get started with a brief overview of what PIs are actually responsible for. What is the role of a PI? Well, definitions vary.
The National Science Foundation puts it starkly as, ‘The induvial responsible for the scientific or technical direction of the project.’ But as I think you’ll all agree, there’s a whole lot not being said there. Vitae’s definition is better. ‘PIs are responsible for the intellectual leadership of the project, overall management of the research, and the management and development of the researchers.’
Tregoning and McDermott’s 2020 paper, ‘Ten Simple Rules to becoming a PI,’ breaks the role of a PI into three broad categories. Researcher, which includes fundraising, budget management, purchasing, project management, training and managing people, public engagement, and horizon scanning. Teacher, which involves communication skills. Administrator, with the role encompassing admin duties, and hiring and recruitment of staff. There’s a fair amount listed there and as a result, PIs are generally very busy indeed.
Part of the role includes training and managing researchers, and that includes not just their research development for your specific project, but also their career development. I’m sure you’re aware of the UK Concordat to support the career development of researchers. This is the agreement that many higher education institutions in the UK are signed up to. It’s an agreement between stakeholders to improve the employment and support for researchers and research careers in higher education in the UK.
The stakeholder groups are the funders, institutions, researchers, and managers of researchers. Professional and career development is one of the three central principles of the Concordat. For institutions this means among other things, providing researchers with a minimum of ten days professional development pro rata, per year, and providing training, support, and time for managers to engage in career development with their researchers.
For PIs this means having regular career development discussions with their researchers, supporting their researchers to prepare for a diversity of careers, and supporting researchers to balance the delivery of their research and their own professional development. For postdocs this means taking ownership of their careers, exploring a range of employment options, and engaging in career development reviews with their managers.
As you can see one thing that comes across strongly throughout the Concordat is this idea of preparing for a range of careers. That means careers within and beyond academia. At every level of the higher education environment, postdocs should be supported with their career development but where do they actually turn to for support and advice. Well, as this nature study from 2020 shows, they tend to look to each other and towards their PIs. For many postdocs their PI is their main source of information, and if their PI isn’t able to directly support them, or even point them towards useful resources, then the postdoc may well struggle to know where or how to take the next steps on their career path.
We’ve spoken with a lot of postdocs over the last two years, and here’s just a small sample of things they’d find useful. They range from practical things like separating career development meetings from research project catch-ups, or formal PDRs, to the more psychological desire of wanting PIs to believe in their postdoc skills and abilities to be successful outside of academia. For those wanting an academic career, postdocs would like to hear how their PIs got to where they are now. For those looking beyond academia, postdocs would like to know the types of jobs their PI’s former postdocs went on to. Some postdocs just want to feel like they are seen and valued beyond simply advancing a PI’s research.
All of this puts a lot of pressure on PIs, with institutions, funders, and postdocs all saying that PIs should be helping postdoc career development, but we want to stress here that PIs are not expected to be career coaches. You don’t need to know everything and give over huge amounts of your already stretched time and resources to learning the ins and outs of researcher development. There are things that you can be aware of, and things that you can do that can really help your postdocs.
As one postdoc said, ‘Even just being aware of what you don’t know and where to point your postdocs can be a huge help.’ We’ll finish with some quick caveats. Every postdoc is different and has different needs. Every PI and manager of researchers has different pressures on them and their time. PIs and managers of researchers are not expected to be career coaches, and you aren’t expected to do or know everything. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything at all.
Staying in academia is highly competitive whilst moving beyond academia is often a daunting leap into the unknown. Any support you are able to provide your postdocs with, will help them regardless of their career choices. Successfully supporting the career development of postdocs is about finding the level that works best for you and your postdoc. Whether that’s signposting them to useful resources, working with them to explore their options, or anything in between. Thank you for watching this video.
PIs and managers of researchers have a large number of roles, including:
project and budget management
the recruitment, management and development of their staff.
PIs and managers of researchers are:
one of the two main sources of careers advice and information that postdocs turn to (the other source being other postdocs).
not expected to be career coaches but there are plenty of light-touch things they can do to support their postdocs.
not expected to know everything but, as a minimum, they should be aware of what they don’t know and where to signpost postdocs for career development resources.
Many universities have signed up to the UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (2019). Expectations for PIs and managers of researchers are that they should:
engage in regular career discussions with their researchers,
support their researchers in exploring and preparing for a diversity of careers
allocate a minimum of 10 days pro rata per year for their researchers to engage with professional development.
Postdocs skills inventories
This part of the session explored postdoc skills, the importance of a skills inventory and provided suggestions for how PIs and managers of researchers can support their postdocs to unpack their skills.
Hi, I’m Dr Fiona McBride. I’m going to be taking you through several approaches to aid a postdoc to create a skills inventory. I’ll be covering what a skills inventory is, why it’s important, how you can signpost your postdocs to some practical ways to unpack their skills, and we’ll provide some prompt questions for you to consider. Before we get into the practical approaches to help your postdoc unpack their skills, we first want to address why unpacking a researcher’s skills is important.
So, postdocs need to consider all of their career options. As the graph in the slide shows, the growth in the number of PhDs awarded and thus the prospective pool of postdocs has outstripped the number of permanent academic positions available. It’s also worth noting that not all postdocs aspire to become academics.
We found references stating anything from a high of around 70 per cent down to 52 per cent of postdocs desiring to pursue a career in academia. This academic career aspiration persists despite the chances of landing a permanent position becoming ever slimmer. It’s estimated that only about 15 per cent of postdocs go on to tenure-track faculty positions. However, this percentage differs with research field.
Another way of looking at it is that in the UK less than 0.5 per cent of those who have a PhD in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine will become a professor. Despite the low proportion of postdocs going on to a permanent academic career, there’s a reluctance to consider other so-called alternative careers beyond academia. Moving beyond academia is often seen as a failure. Postdoc researchers develop advanced skills that are valuable beyond the traditional academic research career. It’s important that they’re fully aware of this diverse set of long-term career opportunities open to them, and that they’re supported to consider other options.
All of this means that postdocs need to be very savvy about their skills, being able to identify them, build, develop, and articulate them appropriately to whatever audience they’re talking to. Being clear on their skills will be useful to them wherever their career takes them, including whilst they’re in their current role with you. In order to get clarity on their skills, we suggest that postdocs are encouraged to create a skills inventory, a working document which contains all of their educational qualifications and professional skills.
You’re well-placed to help, as postdocs can tend towards undervaluing some of their skills, especially their broader set of transferable skills, like being able to work with others and having some general management skills, such as project management. So how do we go about doing this? Well, we’ve proposed three possible practical approaches to help postdocs unpack all of the skills that they have as researchers.
Time is the first route we propose. So, postdocs can consider how they spend their time, what tasks make up their work, and they could even use their calendars to aid them with this. You may have seen these pie charts before on social media comparing the tasks a postdoc does compared to an assistant professor. They break the postdoc time down into five main tasks and the assistant professors into 26 tasks.
From their point of view, a postdoc spends the vast majority of their time working on their research, with a relatively small amount of time spent on things like reading, writing, and reviewing the literature, and professional development. I can only comment from my own experience, but I think most postdocs work on more tasks than the five they’ve presented here. So, the largest slice on the postdoc pie chart was research working on your project; your postdoc can break this down further as research is really an umbrella term and what it covers differs widely depending on the exact research project, never mind discipline.
Once they’ve identified the main tasks they do, we suggest breaking them down into their component parts to uncover all of the skills. In the worked example on screen, we’ve selected three very broad main tasks, research, teaching, and training or supervision. We’ve then gone on to break these into subtasks and beyond that, all the way down to the skills.
So once your postdoc has created a list like this, you could prompt them to reflect on it, posing questions such as, ‘What tasks and skills are you good at? Which do you like using? Which would you like to continue using? Which ones not so much? Which would you like to develop?’ If they wish to discuss it with you, it may be beneficial to explore their perceptions of their skills and which ones they think they’re good at versus your more impartial view. We know that it’s easy to overlook and underappreciate skills you use all of the time and that you may see all of those around you displaying and thus think your skillsets not noteworthy.
We’d encourage you, as PIs, to highlight any skills you see your postdocs use that they may be overlooking or perhaps undervaluing. Some postdocs find getting past the first step and breaking down the tasks tricky. So, we’ll now cover what skills should researchers be looking for, and how does this compare with what employers want?
So, the Vitae Researcher Development Framework details a great number of skills in different areas researchers may have or could work on. Eurodoc particularly focuses on transferable skills. We held three workshops with employers, and we directly asked them, ‘Which qualities are most important for you in an employee?’ These are the answers we got. As we go through these three-word clouds, you’ll notice how frequently things like willingness to learn, collaboration, team-working, communication, and creativity appear.
Our findings match pretty well with the skills highlighted by the World Economic Forum as important for the future of jobs. In addition, we asked employers, ‘What makes an application stand out to you?’ The answer is just one example of what many employers have told us, that a long list of academic publications just doesn’t help them understand anything about the breadth and range of skills a postdoc has.
This brings us to our second approach to identify skills by getting postdocs to consider one of their specific research outputs and using that as a focus to unpack all of the skills they used to achieve this output. We suggest encouraging the postdoc to think broadly about the skills needed for this particular research output. Do they have to collaborate with others? Do they have to negotiate? Do they have to manage the research budget for part of this project? Did they craft a compelling narrative with data, and many more things besides?
The final approach we’ve proposed, we’ve called real-time skill-spotting. This is where postdocs can populate a grid with the skills they want to see if they actually use or not. The grid we’ve created is just one-week long, but they can tailor it to any timeframe that works for them. In the worked example, we’ve selected some skills from Eurodoc’s lists of transferable skills under the cognitive heading. The postdoc would then simply mark the grid when they notice that they’ve used that skill, ideally along with a small note to aid their memory for when they come to put it into their skills inventory.
The end of the week, we suggest that they pause to reflect on the findings in their grid, then set themselves an action based on their reflections. For example, if there was a skill they’d like to have used but didn’t, could they identify a way to bring it in using it next week? If your postdoc discusses it with you, perhaps you could highlight skills you see them use that they’ve overlooked.
Alternatively, if they highlight a specific skill area they wish to develop in, think if you could help by signposting or perhaps even delegating a task to them, giving them opportunities to develop their leadership skills, for example. You may find that this is mutually beneficial, helping your workload, whilst they grow and develop their skills. If the postdoc is still stuck and struggling to identify their transferable skills, you can signpost them to the former postdoc case studies on the Prosper website for inspiration.
Here, we’re just presenting some questions for you to ponder and have a think about, perhaps even to discuss with your colleagues or with your own mentor. Thank you for your time.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
Postdocs need clarity on what their skills are whatever their desired career trajectory, be it in academia or beyond.
A skills inventory is a living document or list containing all of an individual’s educational qualifications, professional skills, professional abilities and attributes.
A skills inventory is intended to be a document that is invaluable for identifying areas for development, preparing a CV, job applications, creating a LinkedIn profile and so forth.
Examples of skills postdocs may have can be found in:
We have created three practical approaches for postdocs to unpack all of their skills; what tasks make up the majority of their working time, unpacking a selected research output into the skills they used to achieve it and lastly, actively looking out for specific skills. Full details can be found within our downloadable briefing (see below).
Hello, I’m Dr Andrew Holmes and I’m a research staff developer on Prosper based at the University of Liverpool. In this video, we’ll explore the essentials of academic and non-academic CVs. To start with, I’d like you to take a moment to reflect on your academic CV, the one you used to apply for your current role or that you uploaded as part of your most recent grant application. How many pages is it? Do you know if your postdoc knows what a traditional academic CV looks like? Have you ever shown your postdoc your CV? Academic CVs tend to be much more exhaustive and detailed than a CV you would use beyond academia. That’s why we’re characterising the academic CV as something like a library or inventory, and the result is that an academic CV can be as long as needed. Your academic CV may contain many, all or potentially more of the subsections on the right here. The most important will be education, research employment, publications and funding. References are almost always included in an academic CV, but never in a non-academic CV. When we asked a group of postdocs about the length of their CVs, 50 per cent of them reported having a two-page CV. Now, there will be differences based on number of years as a postdoc and discipline, but in speaking with the postdocs, many simply weren’t aware that they were allowed to go over two pages. The postdoc quoted on the right didn’t find out until after their first postdoc position and was left wondering how many academic job applications they made that were rejected purely at the CV stage because of this one thing. In contrast to the postdocs, when we spoke with a small group of PIs and managers of researchers, none of them had a CV that was only two pages long and 44 per cent of them had a CV that was 15 pages or longer. Applying for a lectureship with a two-page CV isn’t going to impress someone whose CV is ten times that long, and postdocs need to be aware of what traditional academic CVs look like if they’re to stand a chance of an academic career. This leads us to some fairly easy fixes. Talk to your postdoc about their CV. Do they know what a traditional academic CV looks like? Send them yours to have a look at. If you’ve time, then you could even offer to read and comment on their CV. What stands out? What needs strengthening? Is there anything your postdoc could do in their current role to fill the gaps? We’ll return to academic CVs a bit later, but let’s now turn to non-academic CVs as they are a very different beast entirely. If the academic CV is a library holding all your achievements, a non-academic CV is a curated window display of your relevant achievements. You want to be piquing your potential employer’s interest enough that they’ll call you for interview. The CV beyond academia is your ticket to the interview. Dolan’s 2017 paper points out that CVs serve three purposes. Firstly, as a marketing tool to get you to an interview. Secondly, as a way to strategically direct an interview by showing how you map against the job description. The implications of the second purpose means that CVs should be mapped against the job description even more so than with academic CVs. Assistant Professor Tina Persson is the CEO of Passage2Pro, a careers coaching company for people with PhDs, as well as the author of the ‘PhD Career Coaching Guide’ and a host of various PhD careers podcasts. When it comes to CVs, Professor Persson recommends that postdocs highlight key words and phrases in job adverts to help ensure their CVs are laser focussed on the job that they’re applying for. Here she’s colour-coded different aspects of the job advert. For example, yellow includes transferable skills, whilst red is essential things that the applicant may have indirect experience of. Just going through the highlighting process can help an applicant better understand what the employer is looking for. The third purpose of a CV is a reminder to the employer after the interview during the decision-making process. Dolan also points out that CVs should convey enough information clearly enough to impress following a ten-second scan. Recruitment takes many forms, and this won’t be the case in all roles across all sectors, but recruiters dealing with hundreds of applications for a job will be doing initial screenings very quickly. Professional careers company Ladders conducted a study in 2018 with recruiters and found that the average initial screening of a CV clocked in at just 7.4 seconds. To make things worse, a CV might initially be scanned by software looking for keywords. Whilst all this may sound bad, knowing how CVs might be treated can allow postdocs to design their CVs to succeed. We’re not going to go into a huge amount of detail of what a non-academic CV should look like; there are plenty of templates available online for postdocs to download or use as inspiration. It’s good to know, though, that there are local and industry expectations, so it’s worth a quick web search when applying in a different sector or a different country. Tina Persson has some brief tips for non-academic CVs. Style is just as important as content and blank space is a good thing. CVs should be easy to read and scan. Postdocs can make use of relevant sections, headings, a headline and a summary. Numbers and an online presence can be used effectively. Above all, the CV should communicate the applicant’s value clearly. Robert Dolan recommends working to ensure that the four or five things you want an employer to know about you are crystal clear from an initial read. As Ruth Winden, careers with research consultant at the University of Leeds and founder and CEO of Careers Enhanced Limited, points out, a non-academic CV should lead with what you offer, demonstrating that you are the solution to the organisation’s need. Rather than creating something from scratch, some postdocs might prefer putting their information into a database and using that to generate a CV automatically. Europass is an online way of doing this with a standardised CV format for use across the EU. Or there’s also a way of generating a CV using R if your postdoc is good with that software. If your postdoc starts making applications beyond academia, offer to read their CVs. Are they targeting the job advert and what four or five things stand out to you? If your postdoc is looking to create a non-academic CV, then you can also signpost them to relevant information sources. The Prosper portal has an entire page devoted to non-academic CVs with plenty of resources for your postdoc to refer to. Knowing where to point postdocs to in your organisation can also be invaluable. Whilst many university careers services don’t cater specifically to postdocs, they will have resources and support for non-academic CVs. You may also know of someone in your own network who works in the same field your postdoc is interested in moving into. Would they be willing to spare a few minutes looking at your postdoc CV? An important consideration for a CV beyond academia is the target audience. Academic outputs and achievements may be impressive to other academics, but they may not be as clear to non-academics. Take publications, for example, they’re currently the lifeblood of the higher education environment, the most desired evidence of academic achievement, but beyond academia, their value is less certain and a long publication list in a two-page CV isn’t using the limited space effectively. When we asked postdocs how they felt about their publications, the majority of the responses were that the publications made them feel proud, successful, accomplished, authoritative and skilled. For many, the idea of removing publications from a CV is a daunting and uncomfortable process. When we asked academic Twitter how they felt about removing their publications from their CVs, we got a number of responses, including this one from former chemistry postdoc Dan Holden, who struggled to remove his publications until he realised that they were just muddying the message that his CV was trying to get across, how well that he could do the job he was applying for. Alison Moulds was a postdoc on the Diseases of Modern Life Project and talks about repurposing rather than completely removing academic achievements, distilling them to the skills rather than the specific content. A long list of publications becomes a bullet point mentioning being published in a range of academic and other journals. Shona Jones, a former pharmacology postdoc, points out that a CV would look different depending on the job. For a job in technology transfer, publications wouldn’t strengthen a CV, but experience in drafting patents would. As Alison Moulds mentioned, distilling academic outputs to the skills that lie behind them can be crucial in convincing an employer of the value a postdoc can bring. All the content of a non-academic CV should be informed by a postdoc’s skills, mapping them against the job requirements and clearly demonstrating this alignment in the CV. Skills can go into a CV’s headline, summary, skills lists, and within the descriptive text and bullet points throughout. These examples from Tina Persson show CVs with dedicated skills lists. What’s more, in their experience sections, they’re also highlighting their skills. In the example on the left, the applicant is clearly highlighting phrases like ‘market research’ and ‘project management’, whilst on the right they’ve got phrases including ‘deal structuring’ and ‘value creation’. For each of those listed skills, the applicants should already have examples and evidence prepared to back up their claims in an interview. Being able to provide engaging examples of how you’ve used a skill or achieved something is an important skill in its own right. Everyone remembers a good story and whilst we often think of techniques like the STAR method as being important for interviews, they’re also great for CVs, as well. The PAR and STAR techniques are useful methods for demonstrating value, setting a scene and showing how your actions solved a problem or improved a situation. PAR is problem, action and result, while STAR is situation, task, action and result. A postdoc could use these approaches to highlight key achievements in a single bullet point. For example, ‘successfully raised 3.5 million to tackle the UK’s postdoc careers crisis’, or they could use the technique across multiple bullet points as in this example. ‘Used my role as a home insurance agent to identify customer turnover. Developed a digital survey to collect data from existing customers. Worked with agency president to lead a new customer service initiative.’ Or they could even use storytelling skills in a paragraph of text like this where the applicant briefly describes the situation they were faced with, students performing poorly, what they did to address the problem, established classroom goals and routines, and what the impact of those actions were, improved student performance, and, finally, the wider impact, happier students and happier parents. If your postdoc is applying for jobs beyond academia, then you might want to help them get over any reluctance to remove or repurpose academic outputs such as publication lists from their CVs. Instead, help them to identify their relevant skills and achievements that lie behind those outputs which are more important to highlight on their non-academic CV. Regardless of their career decisions, your postdoc may benefit from practising PAR and STAR storytelling techniques about their current role and skills. You could ask them to write STAR stories about the five things they’re most proud of having achieved in their current role or suggest skills that they could write about. Having a record of bite-sized stories like this to refer back to will help them whatever their next step brings. Creating a non-academic two-page CV is great practice at highlighting experiences and skills and is beneficial for postdocs looking for a career in academia or beyond. No CV, whether academic or not tells the full picture of a candidate’s attributes and abilities. Traditional academic CVs are particularly bad at this despite their exhaustive lengths. They’re a little like CV icebergs, a few very visible elements such as publications and grants, but the bulk of what researchers do are hidden beneath the surface, invisible to the viewer. This is important when thinking about non-academic CVs. A lot of those hidden skills and experiences need to be brought out more, but it’s also a fundamental issue with traditional academic CVs that creates many biases and has a negative impact on the culture of higher education. These negative implications about traditional academic CVs haven’t gone unnoticed. Funders and institutions are beginning to make moves towards narrative CVs that allow academics to evidence a wider range of activities and contributions. The Royal Society produced its résumé for researchers in 2019 and at the end of 2021, UKRI followed suit with its résumé for research and innovation, which is based on the Royal Society’s format and is being used with an increasing frequency in funding calls. As an example, these are the sections of the Royal Society’s résumé for researchers, providing space to showcase how a researcher has contributed to the generation of knowledge, to the development of individuals, how they’ve contributed to the wider research community and to broader society, as well as providing space to explain their values and motivations and other events or activities that may have affected their career progression, including career breaks and volunteering activities. These sections don’t detract from or remove traditional academic outputs such as publications; they just enable researchers to provide more context and details about everything else they do, as well. On this slide are a couple of examples from the 2021 Luxembourg National Research Fund, which used a narrative CV approach. In their quotes you’ll see that the researchers demonstrate where they’ve contributed to society through charity clubs and how they’ve supported the development of individuals through developing their own leadership and management skills and shown how they’ve put their skills into practice. Narrative academic CVs are still being refined and whilst they avoid some of the problems with traditional academic CVs, they aren’t perfect. There’s little training around assessing narrative CVs and they may provide an advantage for those for whom English is their first language or those who have been trained to write well. Research is continuing into narrative academic CVs to ensure that they don’t unintentionally introduce biases. Of those researchers who have used the narrative from the Luxembourg National Research Fund, nearly 60 per cent felt it allowed their achievements as researchers to be demonstrated and valued, while only 22 per cent disagreed. Narrative CVs also provide PIs and managers of researchers with the opportunity to evidence the work they do to support the career development of researchers. Funders recognise that a lot of academic time is spent mentoring and developing individuals and that research is about people working together and therefore care of those people is crucial. Does your postdoc know about narrative CVs? If they intend to stay in academia, then they’re likely to encounter them in the future, and the skills involved in crafting a strong narrative CV build upon the simple storytelling techniques mentioned earlier. You could suggest that they read up on narrative CVs to then discuss with you or with other members of your group or department. You could also ask them to write a narrative CV using the Royal Society’s résumé for researchers template and then to discuss it with them. Are there achievements or skills you’ve witnessed through working with them that they’ve missed from their CV? How did they find writing a narrative CV? Can they see any advantages or disadvantages in the format? Thank you for watching this video on academic and non-academic CVs.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
Academic CVs are an exhaustive inventory of achievements and academic outputs.
Funders are trialling narrative academic CVs which enable individuals to evidence a wider range of experiences and expertise and to provide context to their careers.
CVs beyond academia are very selective, used to highlight the most relevant experience and achievements for the specific job being applied for.
Postdocs aren’t always aware of the different purposes and requirements of different CV types and as a result can miss out regardless of their career choice
PIs and managers of researchers can help postdocs by signposting, discussing and providing feedback on their postdoc’s CV.
Download Prosper’s briefing on CVs: essential information for PIs and managers of researchers, discussion prompts and tips for supporting postdocs to create the perfect CV for whatever job they decide to apply for.
Hello, and welcome to this session on supporting your postdocs with LinkedIn. I’m Dr Eamon Dubaissi, a research staff developer with Prosper.
By the end of the video, you should have a good understanding of why your postdocs should engage with LinkedIn for their career development. You’ll be given a basic overview of the different sections that make up a LinkedIn profile, which may come in useful when speaking to your postdocs about LinkedIn. You’ll be given some suggestions about how you can support your postdocs with LinkedIn, including questions you could ask in career conversations. Finally, I will outline some potential benefits to you and your research group of your postdocs engaging with LinkedIn.
So why should you be encouraging your postdocs to engage with LinkedIn for their career development and when considering their options for future careers? Well, let’s start with what it is. LinkedIn is a professional networking and career development platform with approximately 700 million users worldwide. So it is really vast.
Secondly, it enables people to expand and diversify their networks. As a postdoc on a fixed-term contract, one of the biggest stressors is the uncertainty of what to do next and what career might suit them should their contract not be extended, or if they wish to move beyond academia. In addition, the postdocs network may often be limited to people within academia, so it can be difficult to explore wider options.
LinkedIn provides a means by which postdocs can expand and diversify their networks, research organisations of interest to them, and even identify and apply for jobs. But why should people network at all? If we take academia as an example, studies have shown that networking is critical to career trajectory, with those in academic positions relying on their networks to build their careers.
This also applies to other industries. The majority of jobs tend to be found through networks; also the jobs tend to have a better fit to the applicant with better longer-term prospects. However, lots of postdocs have expressed being uncomfortable with networking, even though they are aware of its value. LinkedIn represents a way for them to develop themselves in this area.
LinkedIn has many different functions which they can engage with. This includes connecting with and messaging other professionals in their network; joining professional groups for targeted networking opportunities; giving and receiving recommendations to and from those that they have worked with; receiving notifications from the contacts when they have posted something or have had a change in circumstances, for example, if they’ve got a new position; researching organisations and people within those organisations; finding and applying for jobs; creating their own company page and recruiting to their own organisation; completing online courses with LinkedIn; learning and sharing ideas and professional content, for example, blogs and videos which demonstrates their thought leadership.
To use LinkedIn effectively and take advantage of all of these functions, they first need to be visible to others by creating their own profile. To be able to have a conversation with your postdocs about LinkedIn, it may be worth understanding the various sections that make up a profile, and even what the purpose of a profile is in the first place. So I shall take you through that now.
From the perspective of a postdoc, the basic premise of a LinkedIn profile is that it should position them for their next career move. When it becomes clear what their target career is, the LinkedIn profile should reflect this. They can use LinkedIn to expand and leverage their network, conducting informational interviews to find out more about different career paths. This can then inform the further development of their profile in an iterative process.
So let’s take a quick look at what elements make up a LinkedIn profile. I’ve made a mock-up of a possible profile just to illustrate the main sections. At the top, we have space for your photo, and also an additional background photo. Then, below this, we have the name and professional headline. Finally, we have the About section, which is a space to elaborate on who they are, what they offer and what they want. These are the core components of the profile, together with the experience and education sections, which are important, for example, if you’re going for certain types of jobs that require specific educational attainment or experience.
These sections take less thought to complete. Then we have the skill section, which we’ll talk about in more detail later. Finally, there are a number of recommended additional sections that can enhance a profile further. So let’s start with the photos. The simple message is that a profile photo should be professional and suit the industry that they are targeting, but it doesn’t need to necessarily be taken by a professional photographer.
In terms of dress, again, it depends on the types of positions that someone is targeting. For example, a corporate role may require smart dress. It’s a pretty simple one, again, but smiling is important. This is the first impression that people get, so it should be welcoming. In terms of the background photo, which is optional, some people like to include an image of them at a speaking engagement; an image that shows them in their work environment, if that’s relevant to their next career; or perhaps a first slide of some featured content or something they have created. Again, they should try and tailor it to what they would like to portray about themselves to others.
For example, if they would like a job involving relationship building and public speaking, an image showing them doing that could be powerful. They should think about the audience they wish to attract. So moving on to the professional headline, this accompanies the name and photo when somebody searches for them. So it should be given plenty of thought. Again, this is the opportunity to make an instant impression about who you are when people quickly scan over your profile. It is a snapshot of someone as a professional, but it can also be used to show up parts of their personality.
The About section is the place to tell their story and demonstrate their self-efficacy. It is the opportunity to expand on who they are, what they do and what they want, demonstrating their self-belief. This is a place to demonstrate their skills and how they have put these into practice. They can also even put a line or two in about what they are looking for in their next career move.
You can help your postdoc brainstorm content for their About section by getting them to think about what the best possible future self looks like. So imagining themselves in the future and what it looks like for them, what they’re doing, what they like to do, also what technical and transferable skills and also personal attributes and characteristics they possess and like to use. And, finally, imagining themselves in the shoes of a hiring manager, and what they would be looking for in a potential employee, because these kind of words and phrases may be useful for the About section. For help with the About section, you could refer your postdocs to the website of Sabrina Woods, a LinkedIn trainer and career coach.
To enhance their profiles further, your postdoc could fill in other core sections, including positions held, which ultimately has a section called Experience, and their education. But there is also a specific skills section, where particular skills can be emphasised and reordered to reflect those that they wish to highlight. For example, if they’re going for a particular job that requires a specific set of skills, perhaps these should be highlighted further up in the list.
Profiles can be further enhanced with the recommended sections. Here I’ve highlighted the recommendations because these can really enhance a profile by giving some insight into what the person is like, from the perspective of those that they work with or are connected to in another way. So by simply clicking on the add recommendations, you’re able to request from your own connections somebody to give you a recommendation.
Finally, in the additional sections, a number of other areas can be populated. Here, I’ve highlighted publications and causes. In addition, by following different organisations and groups, this populates another section called interests, which can also give an insight into who they are and what they stand for. So how can you, as a PI, support your postdoc with LinkedIn? Here are some suggestions.
First of all, there is no expectation from postdocs for you to be an expert in LinkedIn. So it’s just small things really, giving them some support and having conversations with them about LinkedIn. For example, you could talk about LinkedIn and career conversations, asking questions such as ‘Are you using LinkedIn, or have you updated your LinkedIn profile recently, or have you thought about using LinkedIn to expand your professional network and for career exploration?’
You can also offer to read their profiles. Are they articulating the skills that you know they possess? This feedback can give them invaluable insight into themselves. If you are on LinkedIn yourself, you could give your postdoc a recommendation. This is a great way to show your support and give them a confidence boost. Also, if you’re on LinkedIn, you could share and suggest people for them to connect with.
For example, you may have former postdocs and PhD students that are on LinkedIn. You could connect them, especially if they’re doing different jobs beyond academia that might help your current postdocs build up their network. Finally, be prepared to follow-up, asking ‘How’s it going with LinkedIn?’ Who have they connected with? Have they used any of the connections to conducting informational interviews to find out more? It is also possible that your postdocs engaging with LinkedIn might have benefits for yourself and your research.
First of all, and possibly most importantly, if your postdoc is aware of what they can do to explore opportunities through LinkedIn, it is likely that they will be more confident, less stressed and more in control, which is ultimately better for productivity when they’re conducting their research. You can also enhance your own reputation for supporting your postdocs with their career development.
In addition, an outward-looking postdoc can potentially lead to external collaborations for yourself. Your postdoc can also act as an ambassador for your research group, both now and in the future. If you encourage your postdocs to have up-to-date LinkedIn profiles, it’s also an opportunity for more people to see the research that is being done within your group. You can also consider joining LinkedIn yourself, in order to keep in contact with former postdocs, building a community of different generations that you have supervised.
Finally, you could also grow your own network through the networks of your postdocs. So thank you for taking the time to listen to this video. I hope you’ve been able to take something from it, and that you can use it with your own postdocs.
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LinkedIn provides a method in which postdocs can expand their network beyond academia.
LinkedIn allows postdocs to explore career options by researching organisations and roles within those organisations.
PIs and managers of researchers may also benefit from postdocs using LinkedIn effectively, increasing exposure of their research and potentially creating new collaborations or contacts.
A well-curated LinkedIn profile should position a person for their next career move.
Download Prosper’s briefing on LinkedIn: essential information for PIs and managers of researchers, discussion prompts and tips for supporting postdocs to create a LinkedIn profile and explore their career options.
Hello, I’m Dr Andrew Holmes and I’m a research staff developer on Prosper, based at the University of Liverpool. In this short video, we’re going to be looking at the recruitment processes that your postdocs may face in the future. We’ll first look at recruitment processes beyond academia, then we’ll look at recruitment processes within academia.
One of the most common things we hear is postdocs saying that they don’t know how to find academic jobs. They don’t know where to start or what they want to do beyond academia. You may well have come across this yourself. For those PIs who haven’t worked outside of higher education, it may be hard to know how to respond. Finding a career that you’d like beyond academia is a three-stage process.
Firstly, postdocs need to work out what types of jobs they’d actually like to do. We recommend starting with postdocs reflecting on themselves. What do they like to do? What do they value? What are they good at? We then ask postdocs to explore career options where those reflections align, before finally acting on what they’ve discovered to find a job and apply for it. We’ve got details of this process for postdocs on the Prosper portal at the moment, and more resources are being added all the time, so you can refer postdocs to the portal if you wish.
Once they know what types of jobs they’d like, postdocs then need to find and apply for a job. LinkedIn can be a great place for job-hunting. See our resources on LinkedIn for details of this. Alternatively, a postdoc can identify and target specific types of organisations and roles. They could reach out to them and ask about conducting informational interviews to find out more about the jobs and about how to get jobs there. There are also a large number of job sites out there, such as Reed or Indeed, and recruiters may also play a role in finding and applying for jobs. Your experience with the academic recruitment process.
Here’s a quick overview of recruitment processes beyond academia. Application processes almost always start with a CV and a cover letter or supporting statement. There are a range of interview types. For example, competency interviews are particularly common. The recruitment process may also involve some form of additional assessment, such as an aptitude test or a group exercise.
Interviews and assessments can be carried out across a whole range of different formats, including on the phone, in person, online, and at assessment centres. You don’t need to know the details of any of these processes; it’s helpful to be aware of them and to be aware that your postdoc might need to take extra time to familiarise themselves with the different application, interview, or assessment formats. We suggest some discussion topics, such as asking your postdoc how they look for and apply for jobs.
You don’t need to know the specific details of how to find jobs or recruitment assessments. What we’d suggest is that you can signpost your postdocs to useful resources, such as the Prosper Portal, or even to anyone in your network who is already in a relevant field and might be willing to spare a few minutes for your postdoc. Ask your postdoc to be kept up-to-date with their progress. Even if you don’t have time or the specific knowledge they’re looking for, it helps them to feel that you are interested in their career beyond your research project.
If they get an interview, is there anything you can do to help them prepare? Do they know the format of the interview? The downfall of many an interview is a lack of preparation, and being caught off-guard by an assessment format that you’re not familiar with doesn’t help. We’ve talked about recruitment processes beyond academia and now we want to very quickly look at academic recruitment processes.
As a PI or manager of researchers, this is an area that you likely already have a lot of experience in. You’ll have gone through academic recruitment processes to get to the position you are now. You’ll have advertised and recruited candidates for postdoctoral positions, and you may have even been involved in recruiting lecturers or research fellows. Reflect on your experiences of academic recruitment processes.
What key skills and achievements do you look for and value in a potential postdoc, lecturer, or fellow? How do you assess those skills and achievements? How can you share this information with your postdocs to help them strengthen an application or an interview? Think back to the recruitment process for any researchers you currently manage, what stood out about them and their application, and have you told them this? Did you notice any gaps in their application, and is there a way to help them fill those gaps in their current role?
Thank you for watching this video.
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There are numerous ways for postdocs to find their next job, including job sites, recruiters, LinkedIn and identifying and targeting specific organisations.
Recruitment processes differ within and beyond academia, although a CV and a cover letter or supporting statement is the typical first stage.
Interviews can take a variety of formats and knowing what to expect is crucial in performing well.
Discussing with postdocs their approach for job hunting and their applications is an undemanding method of support.