The main goal of a postdoctoral position (or fellowship) is to develop your professional and academic skills while still under the mentorship of an experienced researcher. You will likely have more flexibility in terms of the funding you apply for and the direction of your research. The skills and experience you gain as a postdoc can be key to future applications to tenure-track faculty positions. Postdoctoral training may also be beneficial to government agencies, nonprofit research organizations, research-focused corporations, health care centers, or other scientific/research-driven organizations, although not strictly required.
As a postdoc you should expect to:
- Further develop your skills to define a scientific question and test your hypothesis, with more independence than as a graduate student.
- Learn to run a lab of your own by mentoring junior scientists and laboratory staff.
- Find and apply for your own funding to demonstrate your ability to secure future funding.
- Learn to teach classes or seminars to develop the next generation of scientists.
Other reasons for pursuing a postdoctoral research position may include the desire to:
- Take advantage of an opportunity to change the focus of your research (or even change disciplines entirely).
- Diversify your skill set outside of your graduate work.
- Fill in the gaps in your technical knowledge.
- Take time to refine your research goals.
- Conduct research with an expert in your field of choice.
- Improve your technical and "soft" skills.
- Expand your publication record.
- Add experience to your resume/CV.
- Expand your professional network.
One aspect to note is that while the average salary/stipend amount for a postdoc position is typically higher than that of the average graduate student, it may still be significantly lower than a permanent position in your field.