Planning From the Beginning

Life is a series of transitions.

We move from grade to grade and from degree to degree, always looking to reach that light at the end of the tunnel. For postdocs and fellows, that light is the coveted “permanent position.” Whether it is a faculty position, research staff or entrepreneur, each stage, especially the postdoctoral stage, is meant to prepare you for this last step.

Looking ahead while trying to make progress in the present is difficult. There is no denying that. It is important to plan from the beginning and review your goals and objectives periodically. This is why there are check points througout your tenure as a postdoc or fellow here at Argonne. It is important to us that you are just as successful in the next stage of your career as you are in your time here at the lab.

The first checkpoint happens when you arrive to begin your appointment. There will be a flutter of activity with orientation, meeting people and fulfilling your training requirements. At this time, you should sit down with your supervisor and discuss your career goals and research objectives.

The Initial Postdoctoral Appointment Discussion Form  is a basic guide to help facilitate this discussion. It asks you to think about your career objectives, your resarch objectives and what transferrable skills should you develop while you are here to help meet those objectives. You should look at the questions and jot down some ideas before you meet with your supervisor. Think about the expectations for your field, what you hope to achieve through your appointment and how your supervisor and mentor can be partners in your success.

Now that you’ve completed the form, keep a copy for yourself and give a copy to your divison office. But don’t forget about it! You should refer to it at the next major checkpoint in your appointment-the appointment extension.

Appointments are renewed on an annual basis. A few months before your anniversary date you should start thinking about your progress and discussing plans for the next year. You will be asked to complete a Performance Evaluation Form in collaboration with your supervisor.

This is a good time to review your goals and objectives from your Initial Discussion. Have some goals been met? Have your research directions changed? Are there other career paths you have considered since you began your appointment?

The evaluation form asks you to reflect on how effective your mentoring has been. Are there ways to make it more effective? Past blog posts have sought to provide guidance and generate ideas on fostering a productive mentoring relationship. There is also an Argonne Mentor Blog that will help generate discussion.

You will be asked to outline your resarch acheivements and reflect on your strengths at this point in your career. No matter what line of work you pursue after your appointment, you will be asked to evaluate your own performance on a yearly basis. At Argonne, staff may write a statement of accomplishments. As a faculty member, you will have to prepare a tenure portfolio. In industry, they may have various means of appraisal, but most will require self reflection and evaluation of goals.

The last section of the Performance Evaluation Form is called Development Focus and pertains to areas of potential growth that might lead to increased effectiveness and a plan to address those areas. This is not a list of shortcomings. It is not asking to assign demerits. It asks you to think about what other skills-technical or professional-that you hope to build and what resources you might need to be successful. Should you work on presentation skills? There are opportunities here at the lab to enable that. Do you wish to be more effective in your writing? In what way? For what audience? Let’s get you connected to the appropriate mentors. Is there a technique that would help drive your research to the next level? What opportunities exist for you to learn it?

It is part of who we are as scientists and engineers to always seek opportunities to learn something new. There is a host of people from your supervisor, mentor, peers to the Postdoctoral Society and staff who are here to help. Take advantage of this community while you can!

Here are some additonal sites for more perspectives on career development. Know of a good resource for your discipline? Share it with us. (sign up for free, Affiliate Membership with your Argonne email address)

The Postdoc Way

Science Careers

About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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