As a postdoc, setting aside adequate time to work on fellowship and grant applications is always a challenge, but there is at least one proven action that can help you stay on track with accomplishing your goals: put your plans into writing. In the draft report, “Improving the Postdoctoral Experience: An Empirical Approach,” which was prepared for Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society in 2006, Geoff Davis synthesized research findings about outcomes for postdoctoral researchers. One of the key discoveries he conveys in the report is that postdocs who plan their experience with their advisor from the outset, manage to “submit papers to peer-reviewed journals at a 23% higher rate, first-authored papers at a 30% higher rate, and grant proposals at a 25% higher rate than those without a written plan.” Although Davis published these findings years ago, the insights fro his study remain relevant.
When it comes to applying for fellowships, there are several reasons why having your plans in writing helps. First, the very act of writing down your goals will compel you to clarify what it is you want to achieve. In fact, it is important at the moment of goal setting to make sure that your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. The more concrete and achievable the goals are, the clearer your path to achieving them will be. You may start, for example, by setting the goal of identifying relevant awards for you and your research. Then, before you draft a full application for an award, you might set the goal of meeting with your advisor to brainstorm and develop an outline of your proposal. Along these lines, when you put your plans in writing it allows you to create a mechanism of accountability and buy-in with your advisor. Setting clear goals with defined deadlines will help keep you honest and strengthen your habits of following through and seeing tasks through to their completion.
So what is one feasible and actionable goal you can accomplish after reading this post? As a first step, consider checking out the myIDP at sciencecareers.org. This tool will help you create an individualized plan that integrates the various activities you engage in as a postdoc. You can use the myIDP portal and the tools it comes with to create your multiyear plan for research, teaching, and career development. As a final recommendation, pull out that calendar now, and schedule specific times to reach 2-3 goals in the next month or two!