This weeks blog – Dr Mark Briffa on Persistence!

This weeks wisdom comes from Dr Mark Briffa, Associate Professor in Animal Behaviour, University of Plymouth



  • What’s the difference between a post-doc who gets a permanent job in academia and a post-doc who doesn’t? In my opinion, a big part of it is persistence. Those who get a  job persist, those who don’t decide they have had enough (for a whole load of reasons) and go off and do something else.
  • Don’t worry about how others appear to be doing. If your friend gets a lectureship after 2 years and you’re still a post-doc after 5 years, that is not necessarily a reflection on your abilities of your friend’s abilities. Academic careers are just weird and everyone’s is different. I’ve known people who have got lectureships after 1 year and after 11 years. There are plusses and minuses for both scenarios, and it’s hard to say who was better off in the long run!
  • Certainly don’t compare yourself to other subject areas; in some arts subjects it’s possible to get a lectureship before you’ve finished your PhD, but this is very unrealistic for the sciences.
  • Ditto papers. The amount of papers that post docs publish a year varies wildly between different people. I remember hearing a talk on being a post-doc where it was suggested that 5 papers a year should be the target. I don’t know if that is the ‘normal’ amount for a post-doc to publish, but it didn’t happen in my post-doctoral life-time! What you can publish will vary with the nature of your project anyway. At the end of the day you want to work at a place where they have some understanding of you research area and therefore know how many papers are reasonable.
  • Focus on getting papers out (at a rate reasonable for your project) above all else, but also get some experience at the other things you might need to do as well, most importantly teaching; volunteer to lecture, teach on field courses  when you can fit this in around your research.
  •  Interviews. As for everything else, don’t worry about what others are doing. Some will get an interview and then a job offer for the first job they apply for, most of us don’t. You may apply for several jobs and not get any interviews. You will likely go to a few interviews before you get offered a job. It’s all good experience, so just keep going!


This blog was first post on the Minion Post Doc facebook group in 2012.