I'm considering taking a postdoc after 5 years as an analytical chemist in the pharma industry (small molecule). This may seem backwards and counter-productive due to the massive pay cut but here's my reasoning:

  • I am extremely unhappy in my current role; I've been pigeon-holed into developing methods for a rather niche technique that isn't versatile and incredibly uninteresting. I've also been pushed into pure project management and doing little to no science.

  • When searching and interviewing for roles I want, it has been highlighted that, while I have industry experience, I am not experienced enough in mass spectrometry or large molecule work, which I do not have the opportunity to train at my current job. I've been searching for 6 months now with several interviews that all came back with the same feedback about my lack of mass spectrometry or biomolecule experience.

  • A postdoc position is likely available to me through my personal network and it would be an intensive way to train in mass spectrometry and large molecule analysis (as well as some data science and bioinformatics). There is a grad student who currently handles most of the technical aspects of the instrumentation and sample prep (he'll be my immediate mentor) while the PI is more on the bioinformatics and publication side of things. I will be asked to help conduct analysis, maintain the instruments, and write papers (the PI has mountains of data but no time or desire to write the papers).

  • My logic is that, with 2 years of focused mass spectrometry training and 5 years in industry, I would be a more attractive candidate and have more options in terms of where I might land a job (different industries, possible academic facilities staff, or national labs staff). I would also have materials for presentation that highlight my competency whereas right now, I only have my PhD work (in a different technique) and a generic industry presentation (cannot use company data so I can only give lectures on general topics in pharma).

  • My long term goal is to shift my expertise to mass spectrometry and either join a national lab, core facility, or build up an analytical department at a startup. Mass spectrometry is incredibly versatile and is a critical hard skill in pharma, biotech, food science, environmental, and other key industries.

Am I thinking about this correctly? Or am I making a mistake be treating the postdoc as a training opportunity and stepping stone?

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    This probably depends too much on the specifics of the position and the balance between freedom and guidance. Also, your goals don't seem to be especially definite. My best answer might be "maybe". My advice would be to think it out more thoroughly wrt long term goals.
    – Buffy
    Apr 8, 2021 at 14:44
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    Welcome to Academia.SE. I suggested an edit to change MS --> mass spectrometry to avoid confusion with "master's in science".
    – cag51
    Apr 8, 2021 at 19:11
  • I am extremely unhappy in my current role: This isn't really a reason to start a postdoc, you could take another industry position. I've been searching for 6 months now with several interviews that all came back with the same feedback about my lack of mass spectrometry or biomolecule experience: You could outright state your lack of experience at interview, explain that you'll learn, even offer to start on a reduced rate until you have learnt.
    – user2768
    Apr 9, 2021 at 6:16
  • @user2768 This strategy hasn't worked thus far. I've been upfront about my limited experience and highlighting my ability to learn quickly (e.g advancing in a pharma career with no previous experience in the techniques used). I think this approach worked for me as a fresh grad but as someone who is mid-senior, I'm expected to lead and be effective immediately.
    – Zeejet
    Apr 9, 2021 at 16:20

2 Answers 2


Sorry, this doesn't seem to be a good idea, especially considering some of the more subtle points you've shared. In general taking post-docs after 5-6 years need not be a bad thing, but people would generally shoot for a prestigious fellowship, not something through personal contacts.

I also want to recommend that you take this just because of how unhappy the current role makes you, but considering your situation I can't. You're in that tricky (not uncommon) position where your PhD, current role and future aspirations are in different fields. As such, you should be very wary about letting go of what you have for something that you potentially may get. There is every chance that the grass appears greener on the mass spectrometry side, and after being trained on it (by a grad student!), you may find that there are difficulties and unpleasant challenges that you aren't currently aware of.

You seem to move towards mass spectrometry in the long term, and I get the uneasy feeling that you're jumping onto the bandwagon without enough thought. Primarily because if you really want to make a big switch, getting a nameless (i.e. without a fellowship) postdoc and being trained by a grad student (and neither earning certification nor being under the wing of an experienced academic) doesn't sound wise.

There's every possibility that I'm assuming too much, so please use your discretion and don't be hasty.

  • 1
    Thanks for the response, however, I think you've glossed over my goals and my primary question, which is whether or not the training may help my career or derail it. My choice to go into mass spectrometry isn't what I'm asking about and the ability to get a fellowship has largely sailed (most fellowships are restricted to researchers within 3-4 years of PhD; I am 5 years out). Furthermore, my interest is not to return to academia; a prestigious fellowship is meaningless to industry; only experience counts.
    – Zeejet
    Apr 9, 2021 at 19:03
  • @Zeejet- Sorry to not be clear enough; I think this will cause almost irreparable damage since it won't add anything concrete that you can show and will constitute a break that may not hold up so well when you're questioned about it. Maybe we are in different countries so the value of a post doc fellowship is different, but here it surely adds credentials (not because of what you learnt there, but because you could secure it). Also some of the most prestigious European fellowships have dedicated categories for senior researchers, have you come across these? Apr 9, 2021 at 19:37

My Bayesian assessment is "bad idea". You may get others who just want to reassure you, but I feel compelled to caution you.

Move to another company somehow or push your bosses into a new assignment.

If you're really stuck in your role, maybe consider an MBA. (If you can get into a top 10 school...doesn't make sense to self-fund an MBA with time off otherwise.) You might hate that even more since it is not "science". But it is school and training and sort of a break. I saw a lot of people do that with their careers at the 5 year mark and it really worked well for them to advance themselves and sort of have a clean break from the previous company. When you interview out of MBA school, you're mostly seen as an MBA and the previous work time is just seasoning, not key. Also, just emotionally, a lot of people at that 5 year mark in industry sort of feel like taking a couple years "off" and being back in school.

Don't do the post doc. It's too backwards on age, $$, respect, everything. And you may not even get the training you want. It's a mill out there and postdocs are not the customers, are very junior itinerant journeymen.

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    Your circumstances—personal, familial, professional, life stage, next five years, pandemic—if your decision feels difficult, bless you, because it is. Which, frankly, in a way might make it easier. I’ll be cheering for you! Apr 9, 2021 at 3:49
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    I'm not sure I understand how an MBA could contribute to the OPs long term goal to do scientific work with a focus on mass spectrometry. Apr 9, 2021 at 9:49
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    @JochenGlueck Thanks for re-focusing this discussion on my goals. I think thus far I've been pegged as irrational and misguided in my consideration of a postdoc as a career pivot without really addressing my long term goals. My desire to move into mass spec is also not what I'm asking for opinions or advice on. I do not intend to stay in my current role or take another role that is similar; the question is whether or not a postdoc can help me transition or whether it would derail my career entirely.
    – Zeejet
    Apr 9, 2021 at 18:15

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