By Damien Bol.
I spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow with the Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the Université de Montréal. Right after completing my PhD in Belgium, I was recruited by Prof. André Blais to help coordinate his SSHRC-funded project, “Making Electoral Democracy Work”. Among other duties, my job was to supervise data collection and management, ensure effective internal and external communication, and organize workshops and events. Also, I was expected to contribute to the outputs of the project by producing research papers based on the project’s data.
My postdoc was not a usual one. In political science at least, many recent grads develop a research project, usually a follow-up to their own PhD project, and hope that a scientific agency funds it. In my case, I had to work on someone else’s project, my postdoc supervisor, which was close to my research interest, but not a direct follow-up of my PhD. Retrospectively, I think this situation was the best deal for me.
Via the project of Prof André Blais, I had the chance to meet big names who are authorities in their field, including André Blais himself, and write papers with them. I learned a lot, both from the scientific and the academic-professional perspective. Also, the visibility of the project allowed me to make a name for myself at the international level. There is no doubt that these experiences helped me secure my current position in the UK, and become the researcher and professor that I am now.
My recommendation for future and new postdoctoral fellows would be: just embrace your postdoc and the environment around it. Because the position is by nature temporary, there is a temptation not to engage and instead to keep working on your previous projects within your existing network until a position opens up in your country/province. In my opinion, this strategy would be a mistake. There is nothing more valuable than to integrate into a new research group, learn how they do science, and start collaborating with them on a variety of exciting projects.
Damien Bol is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London.