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Learn from Microbes: Tips for a Postdoc Transition

Posted in: PhD Survival
postdoc transition

The topic sounds pretty technical. But it is not about adaptive laboratory evolution of your model organism. It is about your adaptive laboratory evolution. We could take a few tips from bacteria to survive in fluctuating conditions of the lab and have a successful post transition.

These were the things I learned in my first month of postdoc.

Flexibility in your postdoc transition

Bacteria evolve very fast and more so when placed in a stressful situation. This is due to their flexibility in changing fluxes and structures if and when needed.

Look to your prokaryotic pals for the first step in adaptation. When you switch labs, you need to learn to be flexible in your new environment. Yes, you have been doing certain techniques a certain way, but you have to be flexible to learn the protocols your new lab way.

The postdoc transition growth rate

When transferred to a new medium, bacteria go through a lag phase and then grow exponentially. Bottom line, bacteria eventually adapt and achieve maximal growth rate, but it takes time.

In a new lab or setting, it may be difficult to understand things at first. There will be people discussing experiments, and there will be a time where you might think, “I don’t understand even a word.” Give it time. Don’t worry too much. You will get there eventually.

Stress response

A stress response is strong for bacteria if the stress has been encountered earlier. Bacteria learn the second time around.

The same is true for a researcher in a new lab. When you enter a new lab, mistakes will happen. You won’t know some things. Even Google won’t give you all the answers. You cannot avoid all the mistakes. In fact, if you don’t make mistakes, you probably are not working. So, make mistakes but do your best to learn from them.

Postdoc transition adaptation

Adjustments help bacteria to survive in fluctuating environment. You will need to adapt to even begin day-to-day experiments in the lab. In a new lab, adapting initially is getting to know where everything is and how everything works. You have to locate the autoclave, learn how to operate it, and get materials ready before you can actually do some experiments.

Postdocs are independent researchers. It is expected that a postdoc will adapt to these things quickly, so that some experiments and results can be produced in a short period. This phase has to be conquered quickly. But every big experiment has a small beginning.


Adaptation leads to survival. Bacteria that adapt quickly survive, while others perish.

The same is true with your career as a researcher in a new lab. First, you learn, then you adjust and start getting experiments done. Before you know it, you are surviving and producing data.

Survive and thrive

Bacteria that survive the fluctuations, thrive. Yes, it is that simple.

In the scientific field, when you have publications, you are thriving. In order to get to there, brave all the fluctuating conditions. There are positive results and there are negative results. Learn and write down as much as you can. Once you are adjusted, you should aim to publish and thrive in your scientific career.

I will be finishing my first month soon, and it was a bit intimidating and frustrating at first. But as it was my decision to go ahead in the field, I will stick by it. Like bacteria learn to survive and thrive in any environment imaginable, so does a postdoc researcher. I have no doubt that small survival lessons from these microbes would help me do better as a scientist.

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