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I'm preparing for a PhD interview and there is one question that I'm not too confident to answer, which is if they asked where do I see myself in 5-10 years or what I plan to do after my PhD.

I know I want to remain in science and do research in molecular biology, so I would do a Post Doc but I'm curious about it because I have heard that there are many levels of it but I'm not too sure what these are. Is there a list of them I could go through and see which suits me most? I'm sorry if this is confusing but I'm a bit clueless about it too.

Also during one of my interviews I was asked about becoming a lab leader. To be honest, right now, I feel that I won't ever be ready for that and I would prefer not becoming a lab leader although it seems like the very final step in the research career. I don't know, maybe I'm wrong but I have seen most lab leaders to be stuck with paperworks, applying for grants etc and they rarely ever work in the lab. My desire is to enjoy doing experiments and I feel that being a lab leader is such a huge responsibility. I kind of wish I could be a Post Doc... forever? Or maybe one day I might feel the need to have my own lab, but how to answer such question without putting yourself at disadvantage?

Many thanks for your help! I know I sounds like a naïve student with all these ideas (which might not be realistic), but because that's exactly what I feel like I am at the moment that I need to know anything relevant about further studies and Post Doc is still such a grey area for me. I know at some point it's all going to be a battle for money...

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    "where do I see myself in 5-10 years" — The correct answer is "Tenured." – JeffE Mar 10 '16 at 15:02
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    Being a post-doc means very little pay and no job safety. These are supposed to be temporary positions, more akin to internships. What you want to be is a research professional. – user8001 Mar 10 '16 at 15:09
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    @JeffE: The OP is not asking about 5-10 years after his postdoc, but 5-10 years after starting the PhD. "Tenured" is not a likely outcome in biology – aeismail Mar 10 '16 at 15:24
  • @user8001, thank you, this is probably what I'm looking for. Is research professional a next step after the Post Doc, and before the professor? I'm sorry if I'm wrong, I still have this exact division of degrees, like BSC, MSc, PhD etc. – HoldenDK Mar 10 '16 at 20:49
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    @aeismail: I think it's "5-10 years from now", and the OP has yet to begin the PhD. "Tenured" is indeed... not likely. – Nate Eldredge Mar 10 '16 at 23:41
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Get ready for the part where you stop doing most of the research and start fighting for the money to fund the people who do if you want to work as a professor. Other options are to find a pure research track and not teach (like I do). These positions are often follow a progression like Research Associate, Research Scientist, and Senior Research Scientist. Though, there's a fair amount of grant chasing and personnel management on this track, too, and no tenure so job security is based on winning grants regularly.

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  • Thank you. What you described is pretty much what I would prefer to do too. I don't want to teach. So, just to clarify, the pure research track has no tenure but the pathway with professorship offers tenure? – HoldenDK Mar 10 '16 at 20:54
  • @HoldenDK, in the US, that is common, though I don't think it's universal. Some teaching tracks don't offer tenure at all, and some research tracks offer professor titles which may or may not include tenure. It depends on the university or university system. – Bill Barth Mar 10 '16 at 21:44
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In answer to you first question...there aren't formally different levels of Postdoc positions (you'll see references to 'Senior Postdoc,' say, but those are rarely job titles). Essentially, a Postdoc is a position in which you work with a lab boss (called PI, Principal Investigator, in many fields), but also assume larger responsibility than as a Ph.D. student (first author of papers often, help with grant applications, oversee graduate and undergraduate students, ...).

It's a product of the pyramidal structure of academia - not enough tenure track positions for the amount of Ph.D.s graduating, so we need to park them and further sieve some out. To a lesser extent, as going directly from a Ph.D. to tenure track and lab boss can be hard, it provides further training with less pressure than being a tenure track academic right away.

The salary ranges from decent to abysmal, depending on field and school. In some fields, one Postdoc (often lasting 3-6 years) is deemed sufficient to apply for tenure track positions; in others you might have several such positions first (often shorter then, maybe 3 years each). So I think JeffE's comment isn't necessarily off, with one modification - say that you see yourself either in a tenure track position, or seriously thinking about where to go for one. Once you're part of this system, you're likely to re-evaluate wanting to be a "Postdoc forever." These long years prepare you for tenure track, and you'll be eager to finally do your own thing with full responsibility even if this now appears scary.

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    Thank you very much. This is exactly what I need to know, about the system and how it really works from someone experienced. I will look deeper into the tenure track. – HoldenDK Mar 10 '16 at 20:52
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    "there aren't formally different levels of Postdoc positions" There are in Australia. One typically starts at level A as a postdoc. B can also be like a postdoc. Levels C-E are more like professor positions. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 11 '16 at 10:15

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