Landing a postdoc, particularly for the social sciences and humanities, is increasingly difficult as Keisha N. Blain recently noted in Inside Higher Ed. Many postdocs are as competitive as tenure-track jobs. But if you are one of the lucky few to receive a postdoc, what’s next?
Leaders often rely on the carrot vs. the stick approach to motivate employees, where the carrot is a reward for compliance and the stick is a consequence for non-compliance. But this is an outdated approach that never really works well. Motivation is less about employees doing great work and more about employees feeling great about their work. There is no stronger motivation for employees than an understanding that their work matters, and is relevant to someone or something other than a financial statement. To motivate your employees, start by sharing context about the work you’re asking them to do. Recognize that challenges can materially impact motivation.
Research shows that the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work. When someone mentions your work in an email and calls you “super-talented,” or talks about your unique strength of connecting with customers, you’re likely to feel like your work has meaning. So take advantage of the small opportunities to speak positively about your coworkers.
When Ruth Atherton decided that she wanted to pursue a career in patent law after she finished her Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, she knew she’d need to get a law degree to advance in her new career. But she had some hesitations about diving into law school full time. She wanted to get work experience right away to help confirm her career choice, and she was worried that being immersed in law school would disconnect her too much from the scientific world. She was also concerned about shouldering the hefty bill.
One suggestion I hear repeatedly from Ph.D.s and postdocs is that our university should offer more opportunities to meet local employers who hire Ph.D.s. Many institutions address such student needs through targeted career fairs, which bring together representatives and recruiters from employers who hire graduates with advanced degrees. If high-quality career fairs are available, graduate students should take advantage of those opportunities to learn about the area’s major employers, to expand their networks and to explore career paths and organizations that they might not otherwise consider.