7 success tips for postdocs

ASU Department of Physics postdoc shares his insider tips

September 26, 2018

So, you’ve started your postdoc experience. Whether you are here because you love to research or because you are pursuing a career in academia, there are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your experience. We asked postdoc Sean Seyler, a graduate research assistant for Arizona State University's Department of Physics, to share some tips for success that all postdocs should know.

1. Take ownership of your project Download Full Image

"Because your postdoc project often involves taking on new ideas and learning new skills from where you left off as a grad student, it can sometimes feel like you are starting back off at the bottom. But try not to let that stop you — find a way to seize that confidence: Take ownership of your niche."

2. Do your reading

"Obviously, you have to do the research. Take this opportunity to challenge yourself — you’re free to find what can be done to expand the knowledge. Search out those boundaries and see if you can cross them."

3. Don’t let grant-writing scare you off

"The grant-writing process can look intimidating or sound boring, but it is crucial for defining your research. In addition to the clear benefits of funding and publicity, being open and sharing your writing with other people will help you get the feedback and collaboration you will need to build confidence. If you work in a vacuum, you feel very insecure."

4. Learn how to package your ideas

"It can’t always be a 40-page paper. In fact, it shouldn’t. Wherever it leads, your career will be punctuated by the need to express your ideas quickly and concisely, and there is no better time to develop this skill than now. Focus — ask yourself how you can take these new ideas and package them into a story."

5. Find your own style

"While your work as a student was likely determined by the structure of your teacher’s assignments and the guidance of your advisers, now that you are beginning your career as an independent academic it is time to define your personal style. How do you work best? How do you think about problems that need to be solved, and what’s your approach to research? Refine your voice and writing style, and hone your presenting techniques. The habits you form now will characterize your career — make them your own."

6. Do important work

"There is a staggering amount of research literature out there. Thousands of papers may be relevant to what interest you. It’s a lot to take in and quite intimidating. Don’t feel too tempted to contribute to the noise. You need to publish — this is how you share your work and package your ideas — but don’t publish for the sake of publishing.

"Likewise, finding oneself fixating too much on 'checking the boxes' is a distraction from doing excellent scientific work. Resist the urge to compare your projects to anyone else’s, primarily if you are focusing on the appearance of the work, like the number of publications and presentations, more than the work itself. You are the expert on your project — and you are the only one who knows where it should be.

"Focus on what you truly think is important. And, if you find yourself lost in the noise, revisit your curiosity. Getting back to the heart of why you are doing that project in the first place will help clear things up. Your interest will keep you honest."

7. It’s OK to express vulnerability

"The first time you participate in a fellowship or present at a prominent conference can be hugely intimidating. Surrounded by experts and award-winning scientists, it’s natural to feel a little starstruck, and imposter syndrome settles in pretty quickly thereafter. It’s helpful to remember that everyone feels that way at some point. What’s more, it is perfectly OK to express vulnerability. It makes it easier to ask for help, and learning to ask for help is part of the postdoc process. No one knows everything about everything.

"If you see someone whose project seems to be going very well, or whose progress or method you admire, talk to them. Share ideas; learn from them. Only good can come from being open to new ideas."

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics


Fall Forward! celebrates dance with faculty, alumni, student works

Annual show from School of Film, Dance and Theatre kicks off season of events

September 26, 2018

Each year the School of Film, Dance and Theatre kicks off its season of events with Fall Forward!, a dance production featuring a range of new works created by Arizona State University faculty and guests. This year’s Fall Forward! opens this Friday at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse. 

“It’s really a celebration,” said Mary Fitzgerald, associate professor in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “It’s an opportunity for us to share our research with the community and also for us to dance together.” Poster image with two dancers performing Fall Forward! opens the School of Film, Dance and Theatre's fall season. Download Full Image

Fitzgerald, who was recently named a finalist for the 2018 Phoenix Mayor’s Arts Awards, teamed with dance faculty Eileen Standley and Rob Kaplan for a piece called “Ubiquitous.” 

Kaplan, a composer, multi-instrumentalist, professor and musician in dance, said the piece started when he was improvising with looping gadgets and guitar and exploring how “something that’s present is now the past, but it’s also present because I’m playing over it.”

He shared the idea with Fitzgerald and Standley, and they created “Ubiquitous.”

Taking her cue from the definition Siri gave for “ubiquitous,” Standley said the piece plays with “appearing, disappearing and being everywhere at the same time.”

Kaplan composed and is performing the music for the piece, and Fitzgerald and Standley will be dancing.

“The whole time Eileen and I are having this conversation with Rob,” Fitzgerald said. “But we’re also going to have a lot of cameo appearances from other faculty and … little surprise moments for the audiences.”

The show will be different with each performance.

“The nature of the technology is such that what gets caught in the loop is unique to that moment, and it’s never the same twice,” Kaplan said.

“The gaps — the places where we don’t know what’s going to happen — I think that’s some of our favorite places,” Standley said.

“Ubiquitous” is one of seven pieces that will be showcased at the Galvin Playhouse on ASU’s Tempe campus this weekend.

Other pieces include “ATMOS” by B-boy and multidisciplinary artist YNOT and a bachata dance choreographed by David Olarte, lecturer in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

“Bachata is a Dominican-style type of dance, and it is being fused and distressed and taken apart from using contemporary and modern techniques,” Olarte said. “Myself and my partner Carla (Leon), we’re really looking at just flipping the end of what bachata dance looks like onstage. We’re giving it our own twist and our own voice.”

The program also includes “Mass: Sacred and Profane,” an excerpt of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” that is being presented by the School of Music and guest collaborators at ASU Gammage in November. 

Fitzgerald said she hopes audiences respond to the entire show with “delight and curiosity.”

“I want people to love dancing,” she said. “If we can make them want to dance, then I think we’ve been successful.”

Fall Forward!

When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28-29 and 2 p.m. Sept. 30.

Where: Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, ASU's Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute