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When to Change Jobs? Postdoc or Faculty Position?

Lara Dhingra, PhD, Pain SIG chair

The decision to leave one's position and take another may be burdened by doubts, legitimate concerns, and anxiety. If personal and family considerations do not pose constraints, career goals may be the strongest consideration. Listed below are some career-related tips for health psychology researchers to consider; the tips come from leaders in multiple disciplines.

Postdoc or Faculty Position-Which Should I Take?

Take a postdoc if you want to gain more skills, especially in an area where you haven't yet received a lot of training. For example, if you are thinking of pursuing an academic track and haven't had strong training in terms of writing grants or manuscripts independently, it's a good idea to take this step.

Take a postdoc if you're thinking of specializing. For example, if you graduate with a clinical psychology degree and you want to go into pediatrics or an area that's different than your training as a graduate student, a postdoc is always a good idea.

Some positions require postdoc training. If you are pursuing an academic job where you are writing grants in a medical center or a medical school, or you're a specialist in a program that falls outside a university psychology department, postdocs are often required because they're typically the easiest way to get the training and skills you need to become an investigator.

You probably don't need a postdoc position if you are pursuing a university job where the responsibilities or skills needed don't require specialized training.

You may decide not to take a postdoc position if you are considering a clinical job. For the most part, clinical positions provide you with ample on-the-job training.

When to Change Jobs-Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It may be time to leave if your satisfaction with work is poor and there are limited opportunities to improve it. It is important to understand the source of job dissatisfaction. For example, am I clinician in a medical environment trying to balance research, clinical work, and teaching? Do I have the right balance of work to leisure time? Is it even in the right ballpark?

Most lines of promotion tend to be administrative in nature. As you move up the ranks in the trajectory of your career, you may find you move away from the things that first drew you to the field.

Sometimes, reframing is a path toward a return of satisfaction. As you become more successful and assume more administrative responsibilities, you often have the ability to shape agenda and strategy. Some may welcome this learning.

Be honest with yourself. Although there is a sense of stability from working in an organization you know will always be there as long as you are diligent, you may need to tolerate anxiety and give up security to do something different and exciting.

You may want to leave a job if it's too emotionally demanding. Not only do you need the time to pursue projects that matter to you, you want to manage and prevent burnout. For example, you may love clinical work, but managing complex patients with chronic pain may be exhausting and you may not realize the personal toll this work requires.

Being a health psychologist in a medical environment poses a set of challenges. There is stress in trying to establish your presence in an MD-directed, RVU environment. If this challenge is insurmountable, it may be time to leave.

Leaving may be an attractive option, if your environment lacks collegiality. It often comes down to the type and specific people with whom you are working. Even if there is a chance that things could improve, do you respect each other?

Beyond the general considerations of moving upward versus moving laterally or leaving to secure a better salary or compensation package, take a realistic look and ask yourself: Is this a gratifying position for me?

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dr. Sharon Manne, Dr. Steve Passik, and Dr. Russell Portenoy for their contributions and assistance with this article.