Postdoctoral Fellow – The Ideal Preparation to Become an Independent Research Scientist

Research in lab

How do scientists with multiple degrees improve their research skills? What can help prepare a life science professional to facilitate their own research studies? Lately, we’ve been revealing non-traditional and uncommon careers within the life science industries. We had the opportunity to meet with Arti Dumbrepatil, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Michigan’s chemistry department. Arti explained her journey as an international student and how a postdoctoral fellowship can prepare you for a career as an independent scientist.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, before entering the biological chemistry field?

I developed my fascination with science at an early age. I was the curious little child who thought, ‘why are butterflies colored and we are not?’ While earning my master's degree, I was acquainted with protein biochemistry and introduced to the world of protein engineering. A simple question asked put me on the path of pursuing a Ph.D. in protein biochemistry. To further continue my research, I moved to the United States and joined hands with Biological Chemistry, which had a different perspective about protein science.

2. What is a postdoctoral fellow? How did you become one?

A postdoctoral fellow is a post where basically you are an independent researcher but a mentor helps you build up your knowledge. After a Ph.D., there are a lot of areas where you still struggle to work and understand how research functions. The mentor helps you bridge this knowledge gap where you learn how to be more independent [and] think about future research areas while getting trained for being a completely independent research scientist.

3. What are some of the top benefits of being a postdoctoral fellow in biological chemistry?

The top benefit of working as a postdoctoral fellow is that you are in charge of your time schedule. You can easily manage your experiments and working time. It gives you a lot of freedom to work, think and manage personal life as well. Also one a funnier note, you don’t have to worry about funding. Most of the time you are funded from the mentor’s grant. In addition, you can also apply for your own funding.

4. Have you noticed any new trends related to the biological chemistry field?

The field of biological chemistry has evolved a lot in the last decade. It has started to integrate the classic enzymology with advanced biophysics, which has made it very lucrative for drug design. It has evolved from just being on the interface of biology and chemistry to a field that offers more in-depth analysis of protein structure-function, actual application and drug design. A lot of pharmaceutical companies are hiring for people trained in this field for research and development along with process development.

5. How competitive is it to become a postdoctoral fellow in biological chemistry?

It is extremely competitive to become a postdoctoral fellow in biological chemistry in a good lab at a good university. Also, it becomes more competitive when you start working on your project. But graduate school kind of trains you for these things and the rest is achieved with the support of your mentor.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring postdoctoral fellows in biological chemistry?

I have only one word of advice for aspiring postdoctoral fellows. Be very careful while choosing a lab and a mentor for your postdoctoral work. Early in my career, I made this mistake of choosing a mentor who was extremely abusive and since I was an international candidate, it all added together badly and resulted in me being miserable. After that, I was able to find a mentor who has been great and my career has flourished under his supervision. So when you are interviewing with people for prospective positions, make a point to discuss in depth how the lab is, how the lab mates are, and most important, what the expectations for you as a postdoctoral fellow are.

Serving as a postdoctoral fellow can provide you with the support of a mentor, to help develop a career as a research scientist. While you’re experimenting and learning more about your particular field, you also have flexibility and control over your time. Some postdoctoral fellows in biological chemistry have been recruited to work in research and development within various industries, which adds to the positive career outlook. If you are not discouraged by positions in competitive environments and are serious about finding the right laboratory fit with your goals, think about applying for a postdoctoral fellow position.

Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.

Dr. Arti Dumbrepatil is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan with Dr. E.N.G. Marsh in the Chemistry Department. She is involved in understanding the role of the Radical SAM enzyme; Viperin. Viperin is expressed in response to different viral infections, but the mechanism of action is not known.

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