Making the Most of Your Postdoc Experience

What should you accomplish during your Postdoctoral Fellowship at Emory?

As a postdoctoral fellow, you are engaging temporarily in further mentored-research training for the purpose of acquiring additional professional skills. As a highly trained individual, you have a variety of positions and career paths available to you in academia, government and non-profit, business and industry. As a postdoc, you are the one in charge of your career and thus it is your responsibility to be proactive about exploring your options and obtaining relevant training to achieve your career goal.

The measure of your success as a postdoc, and as a professional, especially from the academic standpoint, can be broken down into four main categories:

  • First-author publications and reviews
  • Presentations at national and international meetings
  • Applications submitted for travel-awards, grants, and fellowships
  • Mentoring of younger trainees

The Six Core Competencies for Postdocs

The National Postdoc Association (NPA) and FASEB established six core competencies to serve as a guideline to the areas in which postdocs should gain experience and proficiency to be prepared to the diverse skill set required for a successful career. At OPE, we use these core competencies when we develop our program.

More information about the competencies and the full report can be found here.  This self-assessment for the core competencies will allow you to evaluate and identify areas in which you should gain further training.

Please note that the suggested resources listed under each competency are provided for your reference, they are not an exhaustive list and do not suggest an endorsement by OPE.

Discipline-specific conceptual knowledge

As a postdoc you are expected to have and maintain a solid and broad base of knowledge in your specific research area. You should also master your analytical approach to devising and testing hypotheses.

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:

  • Discuss science with your mentor and peers
  • Join professional societies
  • Attened scientific meetings  and conferences
  • Stay on top of the scientific literature

Research skill development

You are expected to have high competency  with designing experiments, utilize different techniques, analyze and critically evaluate your data and be able to navigate the grant application and scientific publishing processes.

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:

  • Attend journal clubs, special-interest club and the like
  • Discuss yours and others science with your mentor and peers
  • Attend OPE grants tutorials

Suggested resources:

Communication skills

The ability to communicate effectively to a variety of audiences  through different channels is imperative to your professional success. You should be able to clearly communicate your ideas and research in a way that is easy to understand by the receiver. Below are the different forms of communication:

  • Writing
    • manuscripts
    • grant applications
    • abstracts for meetings
    • job search documents (CV/ resume, cover letter, research and teaching statement)
  • Speaking
    • Oral and poster presentations
    • job interviews and chalk talk
  • Teaching and Mentoring
  • Interpersonal communication skills
    • conflict management
    • negotiations
    • performance review and feedback
  • Special situations
    • networking
    • news media

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:

  • OPE offers throughout the year events that are relevant to communication skills from grant writing to conflict management and hosts an annual Postdoctoral Research Symposium.  OPE also offers opportunities to gain and sharpen your writing skills. 

Suggested resources:


You are expected to interact and conduct yourself in a way that adheres to professional standards and practices not only in your lab and department but also in your professional community. 

Additionally, during your postdoc, you should develop an independent identity, also referred to as your "science identity" outside of your research group.   Become involved in the wider department, university and professional association groups so that people know you independently from your supervisor or research group.   Take all opportunities to increase your visibility such as attending conferences, meeting with visiting scientists, interacting with graduate students, postdocs and faculty.   Develop relationship with PIs other than your mentor.

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:
  • Attend OPE Postdoc Orientation
  • Meet all deadlines in a timely manner
  • Design projects without your PI direction
  • Write and submit a grant and learn how to frame specific aims for proposals (visit our Funding section for information about grant-related courses)
  • Ask to help your advisor with review of papers for journals 
  • Become familiar with administrative functions (like lab schedule, ordering etc.)
  • Take available courses on lab management and/or other courses specific to your career goal
Suggested resources:

Leadership and management skills

As your progress in your career it is more and more likely that you will need to manage people, whether you are in or outside academia. Being a better leader and manager will help you propel your career forward. Learning how to manage yourself, others, projects and resources and how to motivate and effectively lead others is key to your career success.

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:

  • Take the Lab Management Course (offered every Spring)
  • Take other courses relevant to management and project management
  • Read books about leadership and management 

Suggested resources:

Responsible conduct of research

Adhering to ethical norms in research is pivotal to scientific research. Without integrity scientific research will lose its trustworthiness within the scientific community and the public. Responsible conduct of research spans data management, publications and authorship, human subject research, animal use in research and conflict of interests. It is most likely that you will be faced with an ethical situation during your training and careers and thus you should be knowledgeable of the codes of conduct, guidelines and best practices.

Recommended activities to achieve this competency:
  • Take the OPE Ethics course (offered twice a year)
Suggested resources: