The ‘Special Something' that Brings Success
When Adam came to a federal laboratory as a postdoc in anthropology, he was intimidated by the competition in his field of Central American studies. His adviser, however, suggested he stop and think for a moment. He asked, What do you want to get out of this postdoctoral experience? What are your career goals? What special skills do you have that most other researchers in the field do not? What are some of the unique aspects of this research environment? Which of my connections or talents can help you?
In Adam's case, he spent part of his boyhood in Mexico. This provided him with unique language skills, contacts, and general understanding that most of his competition did not have. In addition, his university hosted a center of Latin American studies where he could increase his contacts with scholars interested in the same area.
Comment: By working together, Adam and his adviser were able to develop a strategy that used the best of his assets—and provided him with an edge that could lift him a step above his competition.
Even after a postdoc leaves, the adviser's role is not finished. Scientists and engineers change positions often, and advisers can be invaluable allies in helping with the next step along the career path, whenever it comes.