August 13th, 2010

“Grad student” is short for “graduate student.”  That is pretty obvious, and any chemist who doesn’t know as much has probably inhaled too many solvent vapors.  While it might be a bit more complicated, I am continually amazed by how many people in our field  misunderstand and misuse the term “postdoc” in both conversation and writing.

So, let’s get some things straight:

  • The term “postdoc” is a shortened version of postdoctoral scholar or postdoctoral fellow.  I imagine there are other administrative variations in how institutions identify those engaged in postdoctoral research, but those two titles are pretty standard.

Minor usage note:  In my book, all postdocs are postdoctoral scholars, but only those who hold funded fellowships are postdoctoral fellows.

Usage note:  “Postdoc” is a colloquial term and should not be used in formal documents like CVs.  Instead, “postdoctoral scholar” (or the equivalent) should be used.

Major usage note:  Postdoctoral scholars and postdoctoral fellows should hesitate to use their full titles in everyday conversation.  “Postdoc” is sufficient.  Anyone who introduces himself as a “postdoctoral scholar” is a pompous twerp.


  • Postdoc can be used both as a noun (the position) and a verb (to serve in that position)


  • The grammatical and orthographical rules of English still apply to the term postdoc.  Remember, when conjugating postdoc for its use as a verb, you may have to add a “k”.  For instance:

Guido is a postdoc for Erick C.
Guido postdocs for Erick C.
Guido is postdocking for Erick C.

And after Guido is terminated for not working 100 hours/week…

Guido postdocked for Erick C.


I’m not just making this crap up; the same rules apply to the verbs frolic, mimic, panic, picnic, and traffic

The variations “postdoced”, “postdocing”, and “postdoccing”  are plain wrong, and using them will make people think less of you.  Sadly, even Science Magazine and the National Postdoctoral Association royally screw this up.

I guess English Ph.D.s don’t postdoc.

62 Responses to “Postdoctoralating”

  1. eugene Says:

    yeah, so i’m doing a postdoc and i got one of ’em fellowship thingies as well. all i’ve gots to do is publish another jackass comm and i’m set.

  2. Paul Says:

    Set for what? The job market has been brutal.

  3. Chemjobber Says:

    Darn tootin’. You tell ’em, Paul.

    So someone I know calls it a ‘postdoctorate.’ What say you, Paul?

  4. eugene Says:

    I’m set for another year of postdoc. I figure my boss will keep me around for one more year if I get them a jackass. I’m in no hurry to leave. I’m not working too much and I love the lifestyle here. And the weather. Afterwards… I guess I should start applying for that assistant editor position with andjewandte that they are advertising. They said they need someone big on the English and the chems knowledge. If I’m staying here, I’m also thinking of doing tutoring on the side and maybe some illegal physical labor (it’s fun and I haven’t done that for a while; it gets you in shape) at the port.

  5. excimer Says:

    For the sake of the English Language I have learned (and abused) all my life, I modestly propose the following:

    Replace “postdoc” with “scientist.” Why, you ask? Well, look at doctors- a “doctor’s” not a “doctor” without an MD, so why call anyone a “scientist” without a science PhD? (And we all know that doctors are just people who couldn’t cut it in science anyway.) And if we’re gonna call a spade a spade, let’s start calling undergrads and postbac researchers “indentured servants,” grad students “slaves,” and professors “professors.” (Cause they ain’t scientists anymore, the lot of them.)

    That way, when I’m done with my PhD I can tell people I’m getting the hell out of here and gonna go science it up elsewhere. Cause I’ll be a scientist. Sciencing stuff.

  6. Paul Says:

    If we’re going to start doing that, we’re going to have to also stop the practice of calling all professors “advisors”. Back in the day, I get the impression that grad students got to navigate their interests and experimental work with a little more independence, and advisors provided advice. Today–while it varies from lab to lab–it seems standard operating procedure is for advisors to give orders.

  7. Paul Says:

    Also, I am not a fan of referring to a postdoc as a “postdoctorate”.

    If you want to look at the word as a noun: I associate “doctorate” with a doctoral degree of some kind (PhD, MD, JD, etc.) Thus:

    “I completed my doctorate at Harvard.” or “For my doctorate, I studied boogers.”

    There is no analogous degree for a postdoc, so I don’t think saying “postdoctorate” works.

    If you want to look at the word as an adjective (e.g., “my postdoctorate work”)…there is an analogy with “graduate” (i.e., “graduate work”), but I think the preferred adjective has to be “postdoctoral”.

    All that said, I think one can mount a weak argument in favor of “postdoctorate”. For instance, we refer to college students as “undergradate students” or “undergrads”, so why not refer to postdocs as “postdoctorate students” or “postdoctorates”? Where this fails is: (i) “postdoctoral” is still the preferred adjective, and (ii) you’d never call a group of people working on PhDs “graduates”, so any attempt to build an analogy is weak.

  8. eugene Says:

    I resent being called a ‘postdoctora(te/l) student’. Ever since the third year of grad school. Especially now that I’m done with it. The way I see it, I got paid to do a job and I was an employee in the eyes of the state (teaching) and eventually in the eyes of my boss (independantly works on research). I mean, why else keep me around for my fourth year? There must have been a benifit there somewhere since students usually just suck up funds. If it was th 60s, I would have been told to finish in 3 years. I mean, I did get an extra two papers and it made me a stronger candidate, but I had more than enough crap already to graduate at that place after 3. What makes me inwardly roll my eyes is some old dude (they are all men if they are that old) in their 60s being introduced at a seminar and during the obligatory listing of awards and honors, the MC mentions ‘Dr. Amazing managed to get his Ph.D in just two and a half years! You must have been really driven Dr. Amazing…’

    Not that I mind that too much, mind. The job market is crap, I had a local girlfriend, and I loved working 30 hour weeks in my fourth year and playing video games for an unhealthy amount of time. I mind more, still being called a student.

  9. Chemjobber Says:

    In China, I believe that the term for postdocs is “after doctorate”. There is a less-used term called “beyond doctorate”, which I find far more appealing.

  10. Wavefunction Says:

    See, one of the things I do is analyze the features of small molecules docked to protein binding sites; in technical terms, I “postdock”. So in my case, using “postdock” would be confusing since after I leave my current position I will have to say “I postdocked before I postdocked.

    My bigger concern is the painful fact that laypeople at large have no idea what a postdoc (unlike a grad student) is. Before, it sounded cool to say that I am doing a PhD. and people understood and appreciated and nodded vigorously, but now I almost always get blank and disinterested looks when I say I am a postdoc.

    How to make the word “postdoc” a part of our everyday vocabulary- that, gentlemen, is the cardinal question of our time.

  11. Paul Says:

    @Wavefunction: Yeah, when you search for “postdocking”, most of the hits are for binding studies. I think that a hyphen should be used when binding is the subject to distinguish the word from its use to refer to postdoctoral studies. For instance:

    I found two post-docking roles for molecule X.
    I discovered these roles while postdocking at Scripps.

    There are lots of instances in English where a hyphen is inserted after a prefix to clarify meaning. For instance:

    The coach resigned from the team.
    The coach re-signed with the team.

    All of that said, I don’t know whether “post-docking” is a great choice of words. I’d favor detaches/is released/etc.

  12. baoilleach Says:

    I agree with the distinction between the terms “scholar” and “fellow”, but I would use the term “researcher” instead of “scholar”. To me, “scholar” implies a scholarship (=fellowship).

  13. Matt Says:

    I think that we need to add postdockery to the lexicon. Postdockery (n) definition: The futile attempt to get an independent job by working for a hot shot chemist with lots of money. This futility can lead to strange and erratic behavior, which is also generally accepted as a subset in the group of actions defined as postdockery.

  14. Angewandte Says:

    Recent retraction of a mesylate coupling reaction in water from Plenio’s group in Germany.

    “The retraction has been agreed because several 1H and 13C NMR spectroscopic data listed in the
    manuscript are incorrect, and the original mass spectra cannot be located. Attempts to repeat the synthesis of several representative products under the conditions reported in this manuscript have failed.”

  15. Consuelo Miljanovic Says:

    Hey there I am so delighted I found your web site, I really found you by accident, while I was searching on Aol for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot for a remarkable post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it all at the moment but I have book-marked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic work.

  16. Anh Kempton Says:

    I got this website from my buddy who informed me on the topic of this site and at the moment this time I am browsing this web site and reading very informative content at this place.

  17. Janine Everingham Says:

    Good information. Lucky me I ran across your website by chance (stumbleupon). I’ve book marked it for later!

  18. Layla Schaeffer Says:

    Thanks in support of sharing such a pleasant idea, paragraph is good, thats why i have read it fully

  19. Claude Schumacher Says:

    Your style is very unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this web site.

  20. Mariano Root Says:

    My brother suggested I may like this website. He was entirely right. This post actually made my day. You cann’t consider just how so much time I had spent for this information! Thanks!

  21. Clinton Hollingsworth Says:

    whoah this weblog is wonderful i love studying your articles. Keep up the good work! You know, a lot of persons are hunting round for this info, you could help them greatly.

  22. Cameron Tegg Says:

    Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics? Many thanks!

  23. Steve Bryan Says:

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you so much, However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  24. Carissa Rowlandson Says:

    I do believe all of the ideas you have offered on your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for beginners. May you please lengthen them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

  25. Quyen Loya Says:

    Hi to every one, it’s really a nice for me to go to see this site, it includes helpful Information.

  26. Glenda Carboni Says:

    There is certainly a lot to find out about this issue. I really like all of the points you have made.

  27. Abigail Hensman Says:

    Thank you for every other fantastic article. The place else could anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal method of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such info.

  28. Eldon Falleni Says:

    I believe what you published was very reasonable. But, what about this? suppose you added a little information? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your website, however suppose you added a title that makes people desire more? I mean Postdoctoralating | ChemBark is a little boring. You might glance at Yahoo’s home page and note how they write article titles to grab people interested. You might add a video or a related picture or two to get people interested about everything’ve written. In my opinion, it might make your blog a little livelier.

  29. Pablo Hartung Says:

    When I originally left a comment I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!

  30. Klara Hummel Says:

    At this time it sounds like Expression Engine is the best blogging platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

  31. Melva McAlexander Says:

    This design is spectacular! You obviously know how to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  32. Elliott Weinman Says:

    Right here is the right website for anyone who hopes to understand this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a fresh spin on a topic which has been written about for years. Great stuff, just excellent!

  33. Polly Catalan Says:

    Excellent blog here! Additionally your web site so much up fast! What web host are you using? Can I am getting your affiliate link to your host? I want my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  34. Gretchen Brydon Says:

    I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an edginess over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

  35. Alana McPhillamy Says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who was doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your internet site.

  36. Cathern Cottle Says:

    I do accept as true with all of the concepts you’ve introduced in your post. They’re very convincing and can definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very brief for starters. May you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

  37. Julie Guardado Says:

    Hi there very nice blog!! Guy .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also? I’m satisfied to find so many useful info here in the submit, we want work out more strategies in this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

  38. Delmar Cintron Says:

    I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

  39. Georgina Shetler Says:

    Great post.

  40. Claribel Carl Says:

    Thank you for another informative web site. Where else may just I get that type of info written in such an ideal means? I have a project that I’m simply now operating on, and I have been at the look out for such info.

  41. Galen Gritton Says:

    This piece of writing provides clear idea designed for the new visitors of blogging, that genuinely how to do running a blog.

  42. Brittny Hackbarth Says:

    Definitely imagine that which you said. Your favourite justification seemed to be on the internet the simplest factor to take note of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as other folks consider concerns that they plainly do not understand about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also outlined out the entire thing with no need side-effects , other people could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks

  43. Cleo Staten Says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me lunch because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this topic here on your site.

  44. Dana Pollock Says:

    Thanks designed for sharing such a good thinking, post is good, thats why i have read it entirely

  45. Precious Sligo Says:

    Thanks for another informative web site. The place else may just I am getting that kind of information written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a project that I’m just now operating on, and I have been on the glance out for such information.

  46. Leonard Paramore Says:

    No matter if some one searches for his required thing, so he/she desires to be available that in detail, so that thing is maintained over here.

  47. Wendy Lindquist Says:

    Thanks for some other informative blog. The place else could I am getting that type of information written in such an ideal means? I’ve a challenge that I’m just now operating on, and I have been on the glance out for such information.

  48. Noble Evers Says:

    Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to assert that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently quickly.

  49. Bradford Holte Says:

    No matter if some one searches for his essential thing, thus he/she wishes to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here.

  50. Terry Pickrell Says:

    Very nice blog post. I absolutely love this site. Keep writing!

  51. Isidra Spring Says:

    Greetings! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My weblog looks weird when viewing from my iphone4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem. If you have any recommendations, please share. With thanks!

  52. Virgie Youngblood Says:

    It’s awesome to pay a quick visit this site and reading the views of all friends on the topic of this article, while I am also zealous of getting experience.

  53. Rafaela Vincent Says:

    What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable knowledge regarding unexpected emotions.

  54. Abdul Rees Says:

    Every weekend i used to visit this site, because i want enjoyment, since this this web page conations genuinely good funny data too.

  55. Amanda Crespin Says:

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  56. Princess Marler Says:

    Thank you for any other fantastic post. The place else may anyone get that type of info in such a perfect method of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am at the look for such info.

  57. Charlotte Inglis Says:

    Hello there, You’ve performed a great job. I will certainly digg it and for my part recommend to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this web site.

  58. Carmon Nimmo Says:

    What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious experience about unexpected emotions.

  59. Dominick Kirwan Says:

    Well I definitely enjoyed studying it. This subject provided by you is very effective for accurate planning.

  60. Caleb Stubbs Says:

    Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this web page, and your views are pleasant designed for new people.

  61. Giuseppe Staten Says:

    Good post. I definitely love this website. Thanks!

  62. Elisha Witmer Says:

    Everything composed made a great deal of sense. But, what about this? what if you wrote a catchier post title? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your blog, but suppose you added something that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean Postdoctoralating | ChemBark is a little plain. You could glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they create post headlines to grab viewers to open the links. You might add a video or a related pic or two to get people excited about everything’ve got to say. Just my opinion, it could bring your posts a little livelier.

Leave a Reply