Postdoc Alumni Share Experiences During Virtual Panel

A trio of East Carolina University postdoctoral scholar alumni met with their former peers to share their experiences in working in higher education on Friday during a virtual panel discussion.

Samantha McDonald (Illinois State University), Terence Ryan (University of Florida) and Amanda Rushing (Catawba College) met with a group of current ECU postdocs to discuss their paths to academic careers after serving as a Pirate postdoc.

The three panelists came from different research backgrounds — including microbiology, biology and kinesiology — and shared nuggets of advice for postdocs looking to begin their careers in academia. From the job interview process to how ECU helped prepare them for their current roles, the panel’s advice was simple: look for new opportunities and remain authentic.

“In my experience, the interview process is very important for your future colleagues,” Rushing said. “This is where they get to know if they’re able to work with you. As a new faculty member, you depend very heavily on them to get through the first year. They need to be able to get a sense of you and see if your goals align with the department’s and school’s mission.”

McDonald echoed those sentiments and added that, although it’s a cliché, it’s best to just be yourself during the interview process.

“They can tell in an instant if you’re being your real self,” she said. “You have to be authentic or they’ll pick up on that quick.”

The panelist added that some of the additional opportunities outside of the lab offered as a postdoc at ECU helped them during the job-hunting process.

“I completely changed fields coming out of my doctorate to working as a postdoc,” Ryan said. “All of the things I do now, I didn’t know how to do until I came to ECU. It changed my trajectory. I don’t think I would be here (at the University of Florida) had I not made that decision to move to ECU for my postdoc position.”

Rushing said that having opportunities to teach during was important for her position.

“At a primarily undergraduate institution like Catawba, our goals are different than at a major research university because the focus is more on student success,” Rushing said. “The most important thing for me was showing that I enjoyed teaching. Being a graduate student or postdoc doesn’t focus on preparing you to become a teacher, but I was able to seek out opportunities at ECU and teach a few courses. Those experiences really helped.”

The alumni panel was the first of its kind for the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

ECU is currently the home of 26 active postdocs across its academic affairs, health sciences, and research, economic development and engagement divisions.

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs will offer a second alumni panel focusing on industry and government career paths on Nov. 13 at noon.