For postdocs who land a tenure-track faculty position, a lack of professional training often results in assistant professors suddenly running their own laboratories and being thrust into hiring staff, creating budgets, teaching, and being called on for committee work—all with precious little experience. Organizations such as HHMI and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which support a large number of postdoctoral scholars and young assistant professors, have begun running workshops and providing professional development materials to help scientists make the transition to a full-time position.
Karen Zito, a former HHMI predoctoral fellow and a first-year assistant professor at the University of California, at Davis, took advantage of the HHMI/Burroughs Wellcome summer workshop. She says it helped her better negotiate with prospective employers and provided crucial information on how to apply for her first big government grant.
"One thing that was very helpful for me was to see a mock study section, particularly to learn about the differences between NIH and NSF and how to approach them," says Zito. "I had no idea that, for example, it was important to pick a study section and maybe even approach the head of the section in advance to see if they thought my proposal would be appropriate for that section."
She admits to still feeling out of her element in some areas, especially in managing money. "I'm spending 70 to 75 percent of my time talking to vendors and negotiating for better deals and prices for equipment and reagents," says Zito. She says all postdocs ought to receive some training in negotiation and budget management, no matter what career path they choose.