Why postdocs are “the Swiss army knife of biomedical research”

Why postdocs are “the Swiss army knife of biomedical research”

Why postdocs are “the Swiss army knife of biomedical research”

This week is National Postdoc Appreciation Week, and a great opportunity to reflect on the crucial contribution the Institute’s 44 postdoctoral researchers make not only to the Institute’s research, but to the whole life of the Institute. As commented by the co-chair of our postdoc committee, every week should be postdoc appreciation week, and we hope that our postdoc community know just how valued they are. We want to say thank you to our postdocs for their contribution to our science, our culture, our training and mentorship and their work as ambassadors.

“It is impossible to imagine our institute without postdocs. The expertise and experience they have gained in their previous training and bring to the Institute when they start with us is invaluable to drive and develop projects in our labs, or in some cases to initiate new projects and collaborations. Add to that writing papers, training and mentoring junior team members, representing research at conferences, knowledge transfer and public engagement ....such is the range of crucially important functions that Institute’s postdocs carry out at that I struggle to think of something they don't do...postdocs are the Swiss army knife of biomedical research and every week should be postdoc appreciation week!”

Stefan Schoenfelder, co-chair of the Institute’s postdoc committee and group leader in the Epigenetics research programme


Being a huge source of expert knowledge

Our postdocs are not only skilled in a huge range of lab techniques and data analysis, they are also often the pioneers, introducing new methods and approaches, and active leaders in developing and sharing news areas of expertise. As described below by group leader, Maria Christophorou, we also recognise the challenge postdocs face in securing the next step in their career path. Our postdoc mentoring programmes, support for funding applications and training are all geared to developing and equipping our postdocs to meet their career ambitions.

“One of the main joys of my job is talking to postdoc colleagues and hearing them present their work. We tend to take it for granted, but this is an opportunity to hear from some of the few world experts on a topic of interest and, as such, it’s a privilege. My experience here at Babraham is that postdocs go out of their way to share their knowledge to help colleagues with their own work.

The postdoctoral years offer the opportunity to be creative and learn through applying expertise that has been hard-earned during doctoral training, without having to worry about securing funding or having administrative burdens. This sounds idyllic on the surface, but it can be dampened significantly by the precarious nature of the academic career. The challenge of working hard and smart with the risk of getting no tangible reward is perhaps most stark during the postdoc stage. I hope that we can all consciously support and encourage the postdocs we work with, make them feel that they are part of a partnership, that their contributions are highly valuable and that we “have their backs” during the challenges that lie ahead. And I hope that our postdocs see themselves as the experts they are and that, even when things don’t go according to the original plan, their experience is highly valuable and will help them to succeed in many aspects of life, including many different career paths.”

Maria Christophorou, Group leader, Epigenetics research programme


Sharing perspectives and contributing to decision making

Our postdoctoral researchers provide an ‘on the ground’ perspective for several of the Institute’s committees and steering groups, ensuring that our decisions promptly address issues and lead to continued improvements to how we work to support people within the Institute’s community and ensure that research is undertaken in the most efficient way. They inform and support our health and safety practices, contribute to specialised focus groups to ensure that our scientific facilities meet the needs of our researchers, feed into our knowledge exchange and commercialisation activities, support progress in equality and diversity, research integrity and environmental sustainability, and play a key role in our Public Engagement programme, which brings us on to….


Being great ambassadors and communicators

Our postdocs are an integral part of the Institute’s Public Engagement programme. Whether developing an engagement project, providing insight on how best to illustrate a complex piece of science, or being the friendly faces to chat to at in-person public engagement events, online, on stage or in the classroom they are always there to help! Our annual Public Engagement and Science Communication Prize provides an opportunity to celebrate these contributions with postdocs playing key roles in exciting projects over the past couple of years.

“Postdoc support is vital for public engagement at the Institute. They are very active in facilitating the engagement programme and have pushed forward a number of key projects over the last year. Postdocs also often take the role of supporting PhD students with their engagement work, passing on knowledge they have built up over the years and providing continuity between team members as people come and go. The community's commitment serves as a great example to others looking to get involved in public engagement.”

Michael Norman, Public Engagement Manager


Training and mentoring

Our postdocs also play an important role in developing the skillsets of others, not least the Institute’s PhD students. They’re often guiding and trouble-shooting, in addition to sharing their experiences and insights as mentors.

“Across my experiences of being a group leader, the former Head of Knowledge Exchange and now as Institute Director, I have the highest levels of respect and appreciation for our incredible postdocs. Their resilience kept the Institute’s research on track during the pandemic and I know of many instances where our postdocs are the ‘go to’ person, trusted to provide insight and expertise and sharing their knowledge with others to benefit groups across and beyond the Institute. If I reflect on my career, so many papers that I am proud of would not have been published without key postdocs. I am sure all my colleagues feel the same.”   

Simon Cook, Institute Director and Group leader in the Signalling research programme


Contributing to the life of the Institute

With our postdocs bringing together perspectives from different cultures, they enrich the life of our community and are often the driving force behind many of the Institute’s social activities, such as volleyball, football play-offs, and yoga sessions.

Our 44 postdocs come from around the globe with the following country breakdown: Australia, Brazil, UK, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Spain, Turkey.

Postdoc nationalities marked on a global map
Our postdocs come from across the globe

We couldn’t do it without you

So, to each of our postdocs, thank you for the breadth of your contributions, and also for your passion and commitment to the research you perform every day to advance our mission of lifelong health. We couldn’t do it without you.