Laura Flynn, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge, UK
Laura did her PhD at the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, University of Manchester. She enjoyed every element of her PhD and knew she would continue in academia. “I was under no illusion that finding a postdoc might be difficult and the workload was going to be more hectic but this was a career I had decided was for me.” Laura was flexible in that she was happy to go wherever there was a suitable postdoc. Her first postdoc position was at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Cambridge. “This was, as expected, hard work but I quickly got into the swing of things and felt like an independent lab member.”
Laura really enjoys doing science and is currently in her second postdoc post in the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge. “I love my job and enjoy the ability to explore my own ideas, work independently and feel part of a team which is contributing to the exciting research in the developmental programming field.” On how it compares to her PhD, she says it’s very different. “There is much more focus on independent thinking and there is more pressure for you to get the job done. During my PhD I could often go to postdocs or supervisors for their help and advice. As a postdoc you are expected to know how, why and where to do things and this can sometimes be quite difficult and lonely. The advantages of this is the sense of achievement you feel when you accomplish something you initially thought would be an impossible challenge.”
On how being a postdoc could affect her starting a family Laura sounds optimistic but recognises that being a woman in science isn’t easy and it might be difficult to achieve a good work and home life balance required when one starts a family. “There are many inspiring women who are able to achieve this. It may be hard, for example there are times now when you have to stay and complete an experiment or come in at the weekend as that is what needs to be done to get the work completed. However this may not be possible after having children. Organisation and prioritising experiments will have to be more important than ever before.”
What’s Laura’s advice for someone who is thinking of doing a PhD? “I would advise anyone thinking about a PhD to think carefully about what their ultimate career goals are. Do you really need a PhD to do the job you want to do? The harsh reality of a career in academia is that there are not enough jobs. You can be the best scientist but this doesn’t mean that you will become the PI (principal investigator; lab leader) that you may ultimately want to be. Funding and fellowships are becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve and without these you become another face in a sea of other postdocs.” If this still doesn’t deter you then she says to make sure you choose a subject that you’re genuinely interested in. “There will be times when it is tough, experiments don’t work or you have unexpected results that you need to be able to explain or understand and if you don’t enjoy what [research area] you are looking at, these times will be very difficult.” She also has more practical advice of not to be afraid to ask questions. “This is the time that you need to find out as much information from as many sources as possible as once you are a postdoc it will be you that people will be looking to for help, inspiration and the answers.” Laura told me she would not change careers and would stay in her current role because she loves her job. “I enjoy being able to be a bench side scientist and also have the chance to explore my own ideas, etc.”
This post is part of a mini series on post-PhD careers.