Life as a Postdoctoral Researcher- Dr. Abhishek Pareek

Author : Dr. Abhishek Pareek, Institute Postdoctoral Fellow

Research is challenging, complicated and that’s not a bad thing! To be a part of such an adventure that will transform the face of the world is always thrilling. Postdoctoral scholars have a big role to play inside the scientific ecosystem. It is their experience, skills, and hard work that makes a project successful. A postdoctoral researcher’s ultimate aim is to do more research, training, & teaching to have better skills for pursuing a career in academics, or some other area. This could sound like a mouthpiece but as the engine of several research groups, postdocs are actively working on something unique, interesting, perspicacious, and multidisciplinary. The majority of postdoctoral fellows work is at the frontier of research, which can sometimes be exhausting, as we are constantly struggling-resolving, troubleshooting, and learning, but most of the time, it’s absolutely thrilling! Postdoc life is a time for a scientist to make or break and the last chance for a young scientist to prove their worth to the academic community, and that is why they are more sensible, their use is often perfectly justifiable.

I joined IIT Bombay as an institute post-doctoral fellow (IPDF) in the Department of Chemistry to work with Prof. I.N.N.Namboothiri. It is one of the premier science and research institutes in India and highly reputed in the world. So, this is indeed one of the best places for your research journey. I was interested in asymmetric synthesis, particularly organocatalysis, and Prof. Namboothiri is an expert in this field, and so I applied. I didn’t know him personally but his work was familiar to me. The laboratory of Organic Synthesis & Physical Organic Chemistry carries out applied research, the findings of which have practical applications. It is rewarding to do basic research, but doing something that can be applied to meet daily challenges is very important, particularly if you can make a positive contribution to the community.

I’ve been living outside the campus since I came to IIT Bombay, which is definitely challenging but a good learning experience for me. I have met a lot of people outside the workplace. I’ve got some nice friends and amazing flatmates. It’s vital because it is difficult to find a balance between work and life, especially in research. It is necessary to create friendships and collaboration. Socializing with colleagues outside of work is as important as it is at work as it may help spark ideas and solutions when you bounce your thoughts and roadblocks off them. If none of that at least you will return refreshed ready to attain your objectives.

Dr Pareek with his PI and lab group members

A postdoc is a job and no longer a studentship. Compared to your Ph.D., being a postdoctoral fellow your relationship with your PI is on a more equal footing. This is especially true if you come with your own funding or are funded by the institute. During postdoc, you also have to take a certain time out for yourself and optimize the things you need in your career. It is equally important as your research work. If the job does not meet your expectations, you can leave without worrying about the effect on your thesis.

Most of the postdocs prefer to stay in academia rather than go into industry because of the freedom to be able to explore the things that we are most interested in. When you’re working in the industry, you’ve got a plan and an objective that you need to concentrate on irrespective of whether you find it exciting. Similarly, you may find some interesting things out along the way, but you are not necessarily able to explore them because they are not aligned with your employer’s objectives. In academia, you have more flexibility. You discover some fascinating stuff that can open the door to exciting new studies, and many great achievements have begun with serendipity.

At work, I never get bored, and I enjoy that. Any postdoc can tell you that the job involves a lot more than just research. There are teaching, supervising, mentoring, reviewing, collaborating, interacting, traveling, and many more. This variety of my daily activities keeps my mind busy and allows me to develop the many skills, both professional and scientific, that I’ll need during my transition from an early career researcher to an independent scientist. As a researcher, we have no official working hours, but rather a phrasing along the lines “the work is never done unless it is done”. There is always another paper to write, another analysis to do, another compound to prepare, and so on. If you want to have a job that never comes home with you, you need to reconsider. Yet it completely depends on you, as to how much you let this intrude. While your job is great fun, having a social life outside of work comes in handy. It’s not easy to be a postdoc, especially in India. Considering their doctoral training and significant scientific expertise such highly trained and skilled scientists are still underpaid and have limited prospects of success in academic careers but it is still a great satisfaction to follow your passion. You have the ability to create a career of your own. You don’t have to make a single choice and stick with it for the rest of your life. You’re going to make a lot of job and career changes all your life. Pursue your own desires. Follow your nose. Enjoy your journey.

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