Postdoc career development: Which career is the best fit?

Square peg, round hole: Which career is the best fit for you?

As a postdoc searching for employment outside of academia, all of the different options seem incredible yet daunting at the same time. How do I know which job is right for me? How can I possibly use my Ph.D. for anything outside of academia?

In the previous articles we discussed self-assessment, an effective tool in examining the answers to these questions. Self-assessment is the process of identifying your skills and interests, and what aspects of your future career are most important to you. These details can be used to create a Career Development Profile, which the Director of Education at JAX Genomic Medicine, Melanie Sinche, describes in Next Gen Ph.D.

Once you have completed some self-reflection activities, creating the Career Development Profile is (theoretically) simple. You just combine your top three to five interests, skills, and values, giving you a list that should reveal what you want in your career.

Narrowing down your choices, especially in choosing your most important values, can be difficult. It’s a complex decision and there is no right or wrong answer. I have found it beneficial to make the list, step away for a week or so, and return to my choices to make sure I feel they are accurate. In addition, your specific interests or values will probably change over time. That’s why it is essential to return to self-assessment periodically, to make sure you are still satisfied with your career.

This profile is valuable because it forces the realization that you probably won’t find a job or career that fulfills every aspect you desire. By identifying your “must-haves” early on in the career process, it will make it easier to recognize which jobs you want later on during the application phase.

As an example, here is my most recent Career Development Profile.


  • Women in science
  • Developmental biology
  • Science history

Skills I enjoy using the most:

  • Writing and editing
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication (oral and written)


  • Flexibility in work hours/location
  • Challenging
  • Knowledge/research

So now that I have this profile, how do I find jobs that might be a good fit? I can’t just type “Challenging” into LinkedIn to search for jobs.

If you are a postdoc, this is the time when a trip to the career development office may be prudent. They can help you brainstorm career options that fit your profile, and may be able to provide networking contacts to give you more information.

Again, I’ll be the sample case. About a year ago I met with Sinche and described to her how I enjoy helping scientists improve the clarity and quality of their manuscripts, and also explaining science to the public. We discussed my career options, and there were many that I hadn’t even thought about. Of course I had considered applying to academic journals for editor positions, and medical writer jobs in biotech and pharmaceutical companies. But she had so many more ideas that were a better fit for my skillset.

One idea that I found particularly attractive was working in the communications department at a university, medical school, or research institute. This way I would still be learning about cutting edge science, but I would also have the opportunity to develop my skills as a writer and editor.

Another reason to meet with an academic adviser is that they will help you develop a tangible plan. Even if you don’t know what career you want to pursue, there are steps you can take each week to aid in this decision. Additionally, educational advisers will have advice on how to gain experience in your fields of interest. Melanie has been incredibly supportive in my writing on the JAX blog and in helping me find other editing and freelance work at JAX. The more opportunities you can find during your postdoc to network in your field of interest, the more job options will be available to you in the future.



Ellen Elliott, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn. Ellen works in the laboratory of Adam Williams, Ph.D., where she is studying the function of long non-coding RNAs in TH2 cells and asthma. Follow Ellen on Twitter at @EllenNichole.