• Hour glass icon52 minutes : 6 minutes reading | 46 minutes video

Simple steps for supporting postdoc career development

Session details

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

Session overview

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.

Topics covered:

  • Expectations and the role of PIs
  • Postdoc skills inventories
  • Academic and non-academic CVs
  • LinkedIn and networking
  • Recruitment processes

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.

Shared learnings

PIs and managers of researchers have a large number of roles, including:

  • project and budget management
  • fundraising,
  • teaching,
  • communications
  • administrative duties.
  • 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.

Shared learnings

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).

Academic and non-academic CVs

This part of the session compared different CV types and explored how understanding the differences and requirements of different CVs can benefit postdocs regardless of their career path.

Shared learnings

  • 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.

LinkedIn and networking

This part of the session explored the benefits to postdocs (and PIs and managers of researchers) of using LinkedIn.

Shared learnings

  • 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.

Recruitment processes

This part of the session explored different recruitment processes that postdocs may undertake in applying for and getting their next role.

Shared learnings

  • 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.
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