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Postdoctoral fellowships and research explained

At a glance

  • A postdoctoral (postdoc) fellowship refers to a training and research opportunity in a specific field that students can complete after their PhD or doctorate.
  • Types of programs include academic, industry and agency.
  • Some benefits of a fellowship are building a strong professional network and gaining additional knowledge and skills.
  • Learn about online doctoral programs in business, education, health administration and nursing at University of Phoenix.

A postdoctoral fellowship, or “postdoc,” is a period of training and research that some students pursue after completing a PhD or doctorate. It can provide many benefits, including the opportunity to further improve research skills while building your network.

The program you choose will depend on your skills and your professional field. Many popular fields offer research associations and fellowships, including neuroscience, biology, chemistry, business, healthcare, humanities and political science.

Learn more about online doctorates at University of Phoenix. 

What does postdoctoral mean?

Postdoctoral fellowships provide doctoral graduates with the opportunity to pursue further research opportunities in their fields. Students participate in a fellowship to improve their skills and knowledge during research and to potentially assist in their transition to a tenure-track academic position. Some students also participate in programs as they work their way into the professional world.

The length of a postdoctoral program can vary, depending on your institution and field of study. Many positions typically last one to two years, though some last up to five years. Your specific research project and available funding can also affect the length of a fellowship.

Do postdocs get paid?

Postdocs are generally paid positions, though the payment amount varies widely. Factors like your experience, program, funding and project length can all affect how much you’re paid for your research efforts.

Dependent on their program, some recipients are granted a benefits package in exchange for their work. These packages often include paid time off, health insurance and a retirement savings plan. Some benefits packages also offer housing allowances and reimbursement for travel-related expenses.

Although prestigious, these positions often pay less than a professional one in the same field.

Who is eligible for postdoc positions?

PhD graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are most likely to pursue postdoctoral research opportunities. However, graduates of other research doctoral programs can also participate in these programs to achieve many of the same benefits.

Eligibility is also determined by previous education and experience. Most participants will have completed a doctoral degree within the last few years. They also have strong skills in research, communication and teamwork, and demonstrate a desire to continue their education past the doctoral level.

Some opportunities are subject to certain requirements or parameters, such as guidelines or experience in a particular field. For example, you might need to be of a specific nationality, hold a certain degree or have experience with particular research methods to participate in a given postdoc program.

How to apply for a postdoc

The process to apply for these opportunities will depend on your preferences and the institution offering the program. Postdocs are usually funded and posted on job boards, academic websites, through professional societies and at other locations. You’ll need a resumé or CV highlighting your strengths and experience in research, along with details about your career goals.

If your application is selected, you may need to participate in an interview process. Leaders at the institution will ask further questions to determine how you may contribute to their program.

Some institutions and funding sources have different application processes and steps. For example, a program might require that you submit a research proposal or that you have a certain number of already-published articles in your field. The type of research a postdoc program requires will help determine the parameters for application.

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What is doctoral candidacy?

Types of postdoctoral research

Doctoral graduates can pursue many types of postdoctoral research fellowship opportunities based on their career interests. The opportunities represent one of several career options for doctoral graduates and give participants the chance to contribute to their field.


Academic postdocs offer research opportunities to doctoral graduates, individuals who typically want to pursue a career in academia. These positions are typically funded and posted by academic institutions and offer recipients the chance to contribute research to a university.

An academic postdoc places participants in close proximity with field analysts and senior researchers — experts who serve as mentors and valuable networking contacts. They work on independent or group projects, contributing to research eventually published under the institution’s name.


An industry postdoc is a research opportunity for aspiring business professionals who want to work in the private sector. These programs are often offered by private research firms, including companies and institutions that might be affiliated with a university’s fellowship.

Postdoctoral research fellowships in the private sector provide graduates with the chance to perform research on behalf of an independent firm. For example, students might participate in an industry program that focuses on pharmaceutical science, energy, cloud computing, biotechnology or aerospace engineering.


In other cases, students might pursue an agency postdoc — a research opportunity typically offered by a government agency. A state or the federal government or a government-funded project fund and offer these programs.

In some cases, this allows students to work directly for a large government organization like the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In other cases, independent branches of government sponsor smaller programs.

Agencies can lead to careers working for the government or for a public or private research firm; they can also create careers in academia due to their wide scope.

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Dr. Julie M. Ballaro shepherds doctoral students to success

Pros and cons of postdoc positions

For some participants, the postdoc path is rewarding and career changing. For others, a fellowship might create problems for their work-life balance or financial situation. It’s important to consider the positive and negative aspects of a potential fellowship before accepting to make the best decision for the next stage of your career.

Reasons to participate in a postdoctoral fellowship

Participation in a postdoc has some advantages. You’ll meet new people, research new topics and deepen key skills.

Here are some more potential benefits:

  • Gaining additional research experience and training
  • Working with experienced mentors and building a stronger network
  • Developing new skills and strategies for use during your career
  • Learning new and emerging strategies and techniques
  • Potentially learning how to establish further research funding and other funding opportunities

These and other benefits mean a postdoc can be a great next step for many doctoral graduates passionate about research opportunities in their field.

Things to consider about a postdoc

Postdoc opportunities aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking to immediately join the professional world or you’re not excited by the prospect of ongoing research, a postdoc may not be the best option.

Here are a few other reasons why this path may be one you avoid:

  • Programs might end after a few years or funding concludes
  • Limited time for family, personal life and other priorities
  • Income levels remain below what industry professionals make
  • High pressure from funding institutions or agencies to produce results
  • Competitive market for available positions
  • Little control over your research topic or methodologies

These points are sometimes enough for doctoral graduates to look elsewhere for a job.

Alternatives to postdoctoral fellowships

It’s important to consider all options when making decisions about the next phase of your career. While postdocs can be incredibly beneficial, they are not the only employment option that can meaningfully improve your career.

Some graduates will consider a postdoc before launching a professional career. These jobs might still offer some research responsibilities so candidates can continue learning and building skills before transitioning to better paying professional roles.

Doctoral programs at University of Phoenix

If you’re looking to distinguish yourself in your field and considering a doctorate, University of Phoenix offers five online programs nationwide.

  • Doctor of Business Administration — Develop a mindset of change and innovation that breaks the sea of sameness. Our Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) can help you gain a strategic vision and skills to position yourself as a business leader.
  • Doctor of Education — This prepares you to use analytical, critical and innovative thinking to improve performance and solve complex problems in education.
  • Doctor of Health Administration — If you’re a health professional who is seeking greater responsibility in shaping the future of the health sector, the Doctor of Health Administration can help you get there. You’ll meet the challenges inherent to today’s healthcare landscape, including economic fluctuations, burgeoning patient needs and industry-changing legislation.
  • Doctor of Management — This program equips you with critical thinking skills to find creative solutions to complex problems, so you can bring out the best of your leadership skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice — This program is designed for working nurses who require a doctorate for advanced practice or nurses who desire their terminal degree. It does not prepare students for professional certification or state licensure as a nurse or as an advanced practice nurse.



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