Douglas Dyer, Postdoc at the University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
Doug did his PhD in Immunology at the University of Manchester, based at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research in Tony Day’s lab. He focussed his PhD on the interactions between the anti-inflammatory regulator TSG-6 and chemokines during immune cell recruitment. As he was interested in the field of chemokine biology and the immune system he decided to continue working in this field and started a postdoc in Tracy Handel’s lab at UCSD. Doug worked there for two and a half years and enjoyed living right on the San Diego beach.
After his first postdoc, he moved back to the UK and is now currently working as a postdoc with Gerard Graham at the University of Glasgow. “I am now developing my understanding of chemokine immunology and more biological based approaches. Again I have had a great time over the last year from a scientific perspective and am really enjoying getting to know Glasgow and surrounding areas.” His plan is to continue on the academia path. “Ideally this would involve establishing my own lab as a principal investigator… However, I am realistic to know that this is a challenging goal and may not become a reality.” Like many other postdocs features this week Doug also has a plan B, “I am also extremely keen to get more involved with teaching at the university level and can hopefully establish a role that combines these two goals.”
Doug says he’s lucky to do postdocs in two brilliant labs and has enjoyed the the large amount of learning and the big challenges that are involved in moving. “In particular, I have enjoyed the new challenges and fresh perspective that different labs has brought me, however I have now had my fill of moving and am keen to try and stay in one place for a few years.” I asked Doug what steps he was taking to become an independent researcher. “The reality is that this will require publishing big papers and establishing my reputation in the field, something I am currently trying to do. Throughout my career I have taken opportunities to get teaching experience and participate in related activities to try and keep my skill base as broad as possible.” In his opinion the pros and cons of the career path overlap. He likes the challenge of the scientific process (testing a hypothesis, producing evidence, and persuading people of the findings) but establishing a career in academic research is competitive and comes with another set of challenges where you are convincing people to fund you and your work. “As discussed above I have been conscious of the challenge of staying in research science and would advise people to take part in other activities such as teaching and public engagement to further your transferable skills for jobs that may not just involve research alone!”
“To any PhD students considering a postdoc I would certainly recommend it but only if you are really motivated by the science involved in the position, otherwise the inevitable downsides of moving and/or short contracts can become too much of a negative.” He says that too much negativity is emphasised on the length of postdoc contracts. “In the modern job market there is not really such a thing as a permanent job and 3 years may well be a similar amount of time that a job in industry will be available for. Furthermore, in the UK, postdoc salaries are quite competitive with other comparable jobs and come with a great degree of freedom and self management (depending on your supervisor!).” And talking about supervisors, he says that having some idea of what the person you’ll be working for is like is the solution for an enjoyable and successful postdoc.
On how doing a postdoc differs from his PhD, Doug says, “Overall I think being a postdoc is much like a PhD in that its important to focus on the transferable skills that you acquire; self-management and motivation, presentation of findings, networking and mentoring of students. The biggest challenge for me lies ahead in either securing independent research funding, which I am attempting to do, or finding a way to make a living long term in academia.” And his advice for potential PhD students? “Much the same as above, if possible it is important to meet your PI [principal investigator, lab supervisor] and have an idea of the lab environment that you will be working in, but most of all an interest in the science is the fundamental part; otherwise the extensive challenges involved can become too much. But most of all the years of my PhD were amazing, I made some brilliant friends and had some great times whilst doing science!”