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Getting the Most Out of Your Postdoc

At the UW and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, we are committed to you getting the most out of your postdoc experience here. There are a few national policies and high-level recommendations that can be useful if you need leverage to ask for time from your faculty advisor, or to step out at take risks, or to start exploring career pathways. There are many more, which we highlight in our Postdoc Handbook. Just to get started, here are a few based on work from entities including the NIH, NSF, National Postdoctoral Association, and others.

  • National Definition of a Postdoc
    • The NIH, NSF, and National Academies of Science have adopted a consistent definition. A postdoctoral fellow (postdoc) is “an individual who has received a doctoral degree and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.”
  • Dual Role of Postdoc
    • The federal Office of Management and Budget states that postdocs have a “dual role” as both an employee and a trainee entitled to reasonable release time for professional development while on federal research grants. Professional development can include travel to conferences, networking or informational interviews, attending workshops, volunteer or service opportunities, and teaching opportunities.
  • 5 year term limits
    • Based on federal recommendations, postdocs should be limited to a five year term limit across several employment titles. The focus here is for you to make the most of your time in your postdoc and then to launch into the job or career you are ready to have!
  • Annual reviews and IDP requirements
    • Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are required for NIH supported postdocs and recommended along with annual evaluations for all postdocs as important mechanisms to encourage constructive feedback for postdocs, clarify responsibilities and expectations, record accomplishments and performance, and establish future goals for career growth and development.

UW Seattle Campus Resources for Postdocs

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs convened a brief but rich Winter 2016 Postdoc Orientation last week.  For those unable to attend, we wanted to highlight a few of the resources featured during the event.  We also are debuting the first UW Postdoc Handbook (v 1.0), available by February 1 on our website to download.

Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) While research advisors, schools, colleges, and programs retain primary responsibility for postdoctoral researchers within their disciplines, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) is here as a resource for postdocs, postdoc advisors and managers. We are invested in a productive postdoc experience where postdocs can successfully transition to their next career move.

Need Career Guidance? UW Career Center
A list of online resources and in-person services offered by the Career Center for postdocs seeking careers in the academia, corporate, non-profit, and government sectors.  Some consultation services are fee-based. All workshops are open to post-docs free of charge. Check out their Academic Career Series and Non-Academic Career Series.

Looking for Community?

FIUTS FIUTS connects students – and postdocs – to local and global communities through programs that build international awareness, cross-cultural communication, and informed leadership. Based on campus at UW, FIUTS programs create a community of international and American students, members of the local community, and alumni around the world.

Q Center – UW Q Center is a primarily student run resource center dedicated to serving anyone with or without a gender or sexuality: students, postdocs, staff, faculty, alum, and community members. They put on regular programming events, and house a lending library. The Q Center also hosts a queer mentoring program – sign up to be a mentor or receive one. Their office is located at Husky Union Building (HUB) Room 315.

SACNAS – SACNAS UW Chapter supports the mission of fostering success of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American scientists – from college to professionals – to attain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in science. Postdocs are welcome at monthly meetings and events.

UWPA – The University of Washington Postdoctoral Association (UWPA) is an organization run by postdoctoral researchers for postdoctoral researchers. It is served by an executive committee, elected by peers, who have generously donated their time and efforts to improve the state of postdoctoral affairs at UW.

Working to Resolve Conflict?
Ombuds for consultation and mediation – The Office of the Ombud serves the entire university community by providing a collaborative and confidential environment to discuss your situation, consider options, and develop a plan for the future. Consultation and guidance regarding effective strategies to manage conflicts on your own are most common. Mediation is also available. To make an appointment, please call: 206-543-6028.

Questions about Benefits or Visas?
Benefits Office Anne Winkelman, Director

International Scholars Operations (ISO) For questions about visas, including relevant academic appointments, contact

Need Childcare Resources or Support as a Parent? Worklife and Childcare
Amy Hawkins, Director

There are other offices on campus who can help (the new Postdoc Handbook lists several). If you are in doubt about which services you need, please consult the Office of Postdoc Affairs ( and we can point you in the right direction.

Originally posted on January 21, 2016.

Funding Opportunities for Postdocs

We understand it can feel daunting to find funding sources for postdocs, and that NIH or NSF mechanisms can be highly competitive and slow to respond.  The Office of Postdoc Affairs worked with our UW Graduate Funding Information Service (GFIS) to identify additional mechanisms for postdocs or early career researchers.  We found these mechanisms can include non-profits, corporations, professional and academic associations, foundations, and government agencies. These tips and links below will be archived in a blogpost on our OPA website for future reference – we highly recommend checking some of these out!

Search in specialized funding databases. More strategic and specific than a Google search, these resources can surface new-to-you funding opportunities. Be sure to look in more than one place (in addition to consulting your network!), as there is no single, comprehensive postdoctoral funding database.

SciVal Funding
This powerful funding database is geared toward upper-level doctoral students, postdocs, and faculty researchers. Covering many disciplines, SciVal Funding allows you to search across funding opportunities from government, non-profit, corporate, and other sources. This database indexes the abstracts of successfully-awarded grants, and UW users can create a profile, allowing them to export results and set up search alerts. Requires UW NetID login.

The UCLA Graduate and Postdoctoral Extramural Support (GRAPES) Database is an open resource aggregating a variety of external funding opportunities, not only opportunities available for UCLA students. This is a growing and up-to-date funding database, and postdoctoral funding is easily targeted through the “Academic Level” filter on the left-hand side of the page.

Grant Forward
More easily searchable than SciVal Funding, Grant Forward offers UW users an additional funding resource, with features including results exporting and search alerts. Grant Forward (formerly called IRIS) offers broad disciplinary coverage. Postdoctoral opportunities are best found by applying the “Early Career Investigator” applicant type filter or by using postdoc* as a search term. Requires UW NetID login.

Harvard Guide
Harvard’s GSAS Postdoctoral Fellowships database enables searching by academic area, citizenship, career stage, geographic location, fellowship duration, application deadline, and more. Tips for searching the database help ensure you get the results you’re looking for.

Select External Funding Opportunities

All Postdocs Regardless of Citizenship
Amazon Catalyst Grants
Amazon Catalyst at the University of Washington provides students, faculty, and staff of all trades, fields, and disciplines with funding (from $10,000 to $100,000) and mentorship to help them grow early-stage ideas into successful endeavors.

Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program
Provides early career individuals with the opportunity to spend 12 weeks at the Academies in DC learning about science and technology policy and the role that scientists and engineers play in advising the nation.

Dan David Prize
Scholarships to registered doctoral and post-doctoral researchers studying at recognized universities throughout the world and doing research in one of the selected fields for the year in which the application is made.

DataONE Summer Internship Program
DataONE offers summer research internships for undergraduates, graduate students and recent postgraduates. DataONE is a virtual organization dedicated to providing open, persistent, robust, and secure access to biodiversity and environmental data.

Google Travel & Conference Grants
These grants are available to traditionally underrepresented groups in technology (including, but not limited to, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, persons with disabilities, women, and veterans) for selected conferences in Computer Science and related technical fields.

Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Research Fellowships
3-year fellowship to support early postdoctoral research training in all basic biomedical sciences. Annual $50,000+ stipend and $1,500 research allowance.

Kluge Fellowships at the Library of Congress
4-11 months of research support to enable use of the Library of Congress collections, with a stipend of $4,200 per month. Recipients of terminal advanced degree within the past several years in the humanities, social sciences, or in a professional field such as architecture or law are eligible.

U.S. Citizens & Permanent Residents Only
American Association of University Women (AAUW) American Fellowships
Major fellowship to support women scholars who are completing dissertations, planning research leave from accredited institutions, or preparing research for publication.

CAORC Multi-Country Research Fellowship
Supports advanced regional or trans-regional research in the humanities, social sciences, or allied natural sciences for U.S. doctoral candidates and scholars. Awards of up to $10,500. Other fellowships also available.

Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
Fellowships including a $45,000 stipend for individuals committed to a career in teaching and research.

Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar Awards
Open to U.S. scholars who have recently completed their doctoral degree, typically within the 5 previous years. Awards are available in STEM fields, the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Reed Foundation Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund
$10,000 to $60,000 per year for research, including field studies and related expenses. Areas of supported research include, but are not limited to, aging, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, immigrant and minority populations, culture and education, language and identity, and religion.

International Postdocs Only
American Association of University Women (AAUW) International Fellowships
Fellowship is awarded women scholars who are doing full-time study or research in the United States. Both graduate and postgraduate studies at accredited U.S. institutions are supported.

Acknowledgement to Rachel Wishkoski, former Graduate Funding Information Services (GFIS) Manager who contributed greatly to the above list.


Originally posted on July 21, 2016.

Exploring Career Paths: Strategic Steps Postdocs Can Take

In late May 2016, we have had the opportunity to hear from some exceptional speakers on campus who offered their perspective and insights to postdocs regarding exploration and preparation for careers that will be the best fit for YOU.  We excerpted out the following top tips shared during these workshops from guests Kelly Sullivan of the Pacific Northwest National Labs, Linette Demers from Life Science Washington, Matt O’Donnell, Professor and Dean Emeritus in Engineering, Sumit Basu and Hrvoje Benko from Microsoft Research.

  1. Prepare: “Career planning isn’t so much about planning.  But it is about preparing.” Having a clear roadmap won’t always help you, as it may limit you to opportunities or serendipity when something unexpected arises. Instead, invest in preparing for a range of possibilities – diversify your skill sets, cultivate curiosity, and build your networks.
  2. Assess your skills: What is academic research training you for? In part, academic research training is about asking important research questions, developing and pursuing methods to answer those questions, and using results to define outcomes and your next questions.  You are also learning how to work in teams, how to deliver results, and a full range of transferable skills. Learn to talk about your skills and interests in broader more generalizable terms than perhaps your specific, immediate research project may suggest.
  3. Assess your strengths, passion, work style: Talk with your mentor team, or those who have worked with you and know you, and ask: “what do you think I am uniquely good at?” “What do you see as my top contribution(s) to a team or project?” Use free assessments like those offered by Doug’s Guides to get a better sense of what kind of work environment will be the best fit for you.
  4. Explore what is out there: Your research training alone is not career preparation, even for academic positions.  You have to do something more proactive. Develop your “story” about who you are, what your passions are, and how you want to contribute. What opportunities exist? Ask people: I think your job sounds really interesting. How did you get here? Cultivate an opening question “I’m new to this industry/sector, can you tell me what you do?” Get involved with more than just building technical skills in your laboratory.
  5. Understand impact: Learn what is valued and expected in each kind of organization and work setting. Ask: “what does success or impact look like here in this sector, in this organization”? And then ask yourself – is that metric of success and impact meaningful for me.  Is this how I want to contribute, and where my strengths lie.
  6. Gain experience: All the guests discussed the importance of getting out “there” and developing experience and exposure in other sectors, even for a short stint: giving a talk, participating in seminars/sessions that are open to others outside the organization, doing a short 4-12 week internship. These conversations and experiences will both help you decide what sector feels like a good fit for you, and will help distinguish you if you apply for a job in that sector.

Closing tips from speakers:

  • Do something you care about.
  • Summarize who you are without using your technical expertise as a crutch.
  • Let go of worrying about what you are going to “be” – focus more on problems you are passionate about. Follow your curiosity and passion.
  • Spend 5% of your time looking for a new job, even while happy in your current one.
  • Develop relationships. They will take you places and open doors, and make your career worthwhile.
  • Be kind, and humble.  Be realistic about your limitations and acknowledge the contributions of others.

Power Skill of the Month: Pivot. Popularized in the start-up culture, “pivot” describes the ability to drop an unproductive direction or assess signs that suggest that the direction you are pursuing is not going to bear fruit.  Having the ability to pivot to a new direction, release a direction that isn’t panning out, and move on with greater energy and opportunity is key regardless of what field or sector you may work in.

Originally posted on June 2, 2016.

Managing Conflict: Strategies for Approaching Difficult Conversations

At an event in April 2016, sponsored by Hutch United and the Association for Women in Science, Emma Williams, Associate Ombud at UW, shared effective strategies for managing conflict.

First, we know that being a postdoc is highly stressful. You have many deadlines, demands, funding uncertainties and questions about your future. Research shows that people who make decisions from a stressed mental state tend to have a narrower perspective about their options. On the other hand, approaching a problem from a positive mindset – one of gratitude, generosity, and grace – can improve creative problem-solving and open up previously unseen options. In light of this, we offer a few tips the next time you experience even a minor conflict:

  1. Take a deep breath and a break. While it is important to address conflicts soon, before they fester, it is also critical to calm down before responding.  Taking a little time, even 24 hours, will often give you perspective and allow you to explore options for responding.
  2. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Ask yourself: what would you like to see happen? And, how can you make that most likely?
  3. Consider the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’.
    • Who: Is there someone who can help you have a better discussion? Bringing in another person – perhaps from your research group or from your mentoring team – can both offer support or another perspective on the conversation.
    • What: What should this conversation be about? If it is a seemingly small thing – or series of small things – in the research group, what does this pattern of behavior really signal to you? What’s really the overall concern?
    • When/where: When and where are the best place to have a productive conversation? Find a neutral territory and a time when you can both focus.
    • Why: What are your goals for the conversation? What are the results or outcomes you want to see?
  4. Practice. Ask a peer or another trusted colleague to have a mock discussion with you.  Practice the tough questions or responding to difficult scenarios, and practice remaining calm, respectful, and clear about your goals.
  5. Step away when you need to. If the conversation does go sideways, take a break.  Acknowledge the conversation isn’t productive now and you’ll come back to it. You can name a time/day when you want to pick it up again so it doesn’t linger further. You can also send an email follow up to clarify your goals for the conversation, and be descriptive about what is making it difficult to have this conversation (e.g. “the conversation broke down when…”), and then ask for what you need (e.g. “it would help me if…”).

While you are in it, here are a few additional strategies that can help the conversation go well.

  1. Save your reactions. Try not to respond in the moment from an emotional place.  Take time to digest what they are saying, and stick to your plan.
  2. Consider their perspective. Ask curious questions rather than defending, such as: “Can you tell me more about that?” You may get more data, more insight into their ultimate goals. Perhaps you can also find some alignment with your own goals.
  3. Educate, don’t escalate. It can help to be descriptive about the impact of their behavior on you or on the research group. Get them to see what is going on, and guide them to come to their own conclusions about what might need to happen.

If you need help thinking through a response to a difficult situation, you can also make an appointment with the Ombud Office to help you clarify your goals and work through a productive approach. You can reach the Ombud Office at 206.543.6028 or


Originally posted on May 5, 2016.

Postdocs, You Are Public Thought Leaders!

You have ideas what you are passionate about, and you have spent years cultivating expertise. Now, how do you get your voice heard? How can you work to advance the issues? How can you influence change?

In mid-April, the Office of Postdoc Affairs co-hosted a workshop from the OpEd Project, a national effort to diversify the voices we hear in public conversations. The facilitator Michele Weldon has 3 decades as a public thought leader through her books, articles, and media work. Certain key points stood out from the workshop:

  • Own your expertise. You are an expert in _____ because ______. What are you a go-to person for? On what basis do you have credibility in this area? Own it, even if it feels there are others around you who are more established, more credentialed, more famous. We need YOUR voice and perspective in the world for real impact to occur.
  • Personal promotion isn’t self-serving (only), it is working toward public service. That is, you aren’t just “tooting your own horn” when you say your voice matters, you are bringing attention to issues that are critical to you.  The bigger your sphere of influence the greater impact for change you can have. Reframe your approach to self-promoting activities like tweeting, blogging, writing pieces for public audiences/radio spots to building your sphere of influence for issues you care about. And, as a result, you distinguish yourself in what may be a crowded field.
  • “If you say things of consequence, there will be consequences. But the risk and alternative is to be inconsequential.” (OpEd Project saying) Anticipate nay-sayers. As you practice your response to those who will say “who cares” and “why you”, you can be ready to stand your ground with calm, clear and respectful confidence. Sometimes these doubting voices come from within our own heads. Practice saying the same calm, confident response back when that voice of self-doubt or imposter syndrome rises up. #OwnIt
  • Make a pitch to an editor. Craft a tight 4-5 sentence email that showcases the following:  So what? Why you? Why now? What’s the contribution?  Why this outlet? And then sign it with your full name and affiliations. Then cut/paste your 600-800 essay right below that (no attachments).  Editors are busy and they want to scan what you have, not take an extra step to ask for it.   You can use a descriptive email subject line: Timely commentary on ______.

We know that peer reviewed publications are still the coin of the realm as far as your own academic career goes. But how do you get people to read your peer reviewed publications? How can they make the kind of impact you’d like? Amplify your work by pairing peer-reviewed publications with pieces you write for the public conversation or using social media to get your work in front of more people in your professional networks.  Many postdocs have created their own professional websites to gather together examples of their research and engagement activities, to reflect more of who they are. Websites, coupled with social media, can expand your reach and help you stand out from others in a job search or otherwise crowded space. See Future of Ice Initiative postdoc Sarah Myhre’s website as a terrific example of this, and check out how she features both peer reviewed research and news media highlights. Have a good example of your own?  Send it to us, we want to feature it in an upcoming newsletter!

Write to Change the World.

Additional Resources:


Originally posted on April 21, 2016.

Mental Health and Wellness


Towards Sustaining a Culture of Mental Health and Wellness for Trainees in the Biosciences, written by Jessica W Tsai and Fanuel Muindi, discussed the importance of mental health of postdocs in benefiting the scientific community at large. Studies are limited, but we can see we clearly have work to do. According to one study, only 13% of postdocs are “flourishing” and we know that a postdoc position doesn’t lend itself to regular exercise, healthy diets, or good stress relieving practices.  Lack of sleep and high levels of stress actually impede performance.  Bottom line: our work will get better if we take care of ourselves!

As the figure above shows, there are many factors that contribute to well-being. Do your own self-assessment to see where you have areas of strength and where you may need to seek more support. If you are experiencing significant stress, anxiety, or depression, there are offices that can help. You may be eligible for accommodations – even on a temporary basis – and it can be worth discussing with the Disability Services Office.

The UW Mindfulness Project aims to increase holistic wellness, self-inquiry, grounded leadership and compassion within UW community and beyond. Check out their Facebook Page.

Health & Wellness provides support, advocacy, consultation and education to the UW campus community. Check out their website for more information.

For additional resources and suggestions on many dimensions of self-care, visit the UC Berkeley “Be Well” page.


Originally posted on March 24, 2016.