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Neither student nor professor

A postdoctorate is an opportunity for researchers to acquire professional experience

Carreiras_Scan1258NegreirosIt is possible that only a small amount of the work done by large research groups would go anywhere without postdoctoral researchers. They coordinate laboratory duties, write scientific articles, co-advise undergraduate, masters and doctoral students, and they also assist the principal investigator—their supervisor—in designing and carrying out new lines of research. It is by no mere chance that postdoctoral researchers, as is the case in the United States and some countries in Europe, are becoming pivotal in research teams in Brazil. In 2009 FAPESP awarded a total of 15,275 postdoctoral grants in Brazil. In 2014, that figure climbed to 23,249.

Postdoctoral grants with compensation are an attractive possibility for recent PhD graduates who do not yet have a job. The Brazilian Federal Agency for the Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education (Capes) offers the Program to Support Institutional Projects with the Participation of Recent PhD Graduates (Prodoc) and the National Post-Doctorate Program (PNPD) with grants for two or three years. FAPESP awards two-year grants that can be renewed for one or even two years if the researcher has a grant under a mechanism such as Thematic Projects or Young Investigators.
Amounts range from roughly R$4,000 per month for Capes to R$6,000 for FAPESP, which also pays the technical reserve (15% of the grant amount).

The postdoctoral grant is now entrenched as an important stage in the professional activity of researchers who realize that the academic labor market is highly competitive. “In postdoctoral programs, researchers can improve their scientific and intellectual skills and acquire experience that will give them independence later to establish and manage their own laboratories, obtain funding for their research projects or find a position in a university,” explains Elson Longo, coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Electrochemistry and Ceramics of São Paulo State University (Unesp) in Araraquara.

In many cases postdoctoral grant recipients have opportunities for research abroad, where they come in contact with other groups, broaden their horizons and experiment with work routines in research centers with teams that are sometimes larger, more experienced, and with different styles and resources. “Interaction with international groups is important for researchers to become intellectually independent,” says Marcos Buckeridge of the Biosciences Institute of the University of São Paulo (IB-USP).

Industry also holds postdoctoral professionals in high esteem because they have solid training and knowledge of theory, and often they are capable of making the interests of the market and the university converge. “It is essential for researchers to establish and expand their relations with businesses and public and private research institutes during postdoctoral work,” says Marcelo Knobel of the Gleb Wataghin Physics Institute of the University of Campinas (Unicamp). One strategy is to try to work on projects funded by development agencies and private businesses. By aligning their research with a company’s needs, they increase their chances of being hired.

Biologist Mateus Lopes, a USP graduate, began a postdoctorate to complete the project he had started during his doctoral work. During that period, he focused his research and skills on the field of administration. Today he is in charge of the biotechnology innovation unit at Braskem, in the chemistry and petrochemistry department. “It is important to step outside your comfort zone and take risks in environments beyond the sphere of academia,” he says.