Career tips for postdocs from our partners

Being a postdoc is a demanding job. Grant applications take time and staying on top of your field is stressful. What kind of skills should postdocs have right now? What kind of grant applications succeed? We had a talk with Skolar’s funding partners to hear their thoughts on postdoc careers and get tips on how to make a great application.

Skolar Partners 2019

Working life is rapidly changing and this concerns academics as well. Networking in a global academic world, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary initiatives and increasing competition within academia require more communication and interaction between academics. What kind of working life skills do postdocs need to have right now?

“A lot of the same skills as all other employees these days: proactivity, enthusiasm and courage, for example moving abroad for a year or two – due to constant change” says Ulla Koski from Helsingin Sanomat Foundation

The stereotypical image of a researcher hiding away in a lab or library chamber has become outdated. Collaboration with all kinds of partners and stakeholders is more and more important.

Risto Renkonen from the Paulo Foundation states that postdocs need skills to “collaborate inside their own organisation, but also with other players in the society”. The Paulo Foundation focuses on supporting medical research and investing in the career development of young professionals. 

Many foundations are interested in supporting interdisciplinary ideas that go across scientific borders. One of them is Tiina & Antti Herlin foundation. Jussi Herlin from Tiina and Antti Herlin foundation thinks the new generation of researchers also need to balance between traditional academic career paths and speed of information. “New knowledge accumulates faster than the structures can evolve.”

Finding the right partners also outside academia is something that Johanna Linna from Walter Ahlström & Runar Bäckström foundations supports. She thinks being an active collaborator and creating your own researcher brand is becoming increasingly important. 

Communication is crucial when applying for funding

“Postdocs need communication skills to describe what you do, how you do it and why you do it. You have to be able to state your goals clearly and concisely and describe how you are going to achieve them”, says Petteri Karttunen from the Saastamoinen Foundation. The foundation works for the benefit of Finnish art and science, valuing long-term partnerships and collaboration.

Good communications skills play a major role also when applying for funding. 

“Hone your presentation skills and practice communicating your research also to people outside your scientific community”, says Johanna Vesterinen from the Foundation for Economic Education. 

Paula Havaste from Society for Scientific Information thinks that postdocs should communicate well and explain their research in layman terms in their grant applications. “The funders might not be experts in your field, so be prepared to also explain how you are planning on communicating your research,” Havaste says. 

Though it is important for postdocs to show their expertise in their own field, Sebastian Lindberg from The Magnus Ehrnrooth foundation thinks it can be a good idea to also mention skills that you have acquired elsewhere. Lindberg also highlights the importance of belief. “If you don’t believe in your idea, no-one else will.” 



Applying for funding? Remember these 3 tips

All our partners have a long legacy and experience in reviewing research applications and funding research. Here are their top three tips for applying for funding:

  1. Know the focus areas of the funder. Identify who would be the right funder for your purpose. Do not send the same application to every foundation but tailor it to suit the scope of this specific funder.
  2. Have a clear goal and tell why you want to get there. A great pitch works here as well. What, why and how are your most important questions.
  3. Avoid difficult language. Remember that the reviewer is not your academic colleague but often a complete stranger with limited (if any) understanding of your specific field of interest. Keep your words simple.

More about the Skolar partners

Foundation for Economic Education. The foundation promotes research in business and economics by awarding grants and scholarships. This year they focus especially in supporting future-oriented research ideas. 

Helsingin Sanomat Foundation supports media and communications research and strives to secure the future of Finnish media and quality journalism as well as to support freedom of speech.

The Magnus Ehrnrooth foundation supports scientific research in natural sciences, always looking for the most innovative research projects and ideas.

The Paulo Foundation supports research in the medical fields and is especially invested in supporting the career development of young academics. 

The Runar Bäckström Foundation strives to increase the global competitiveness of Finnish companies. They support inventions that have commercial potential and could be beneficial to Finnish businesses.

Saastamoinen Foundation works for the benefit of Finnish art and science. The foundation values long-term partnerships and collaboration, most of the grants are given for 3–5 year periods. They prefer applications that show intention for international collaboration and networking. 

Society for Scientific Information supports the popularisation of science and projects that inform and report scientific research and its results.

Tiina and Antti Herlin foundation supports and promotes social welfare, culture, the environment and science, as well as their teaching and research. They value interdisciplinary approaches and ambition.

Walter Ahlström Foundation supports scientific activity in various industrial and technical industries. One of their aims is to support researchers’ international efforts and diverse career paths within the engineering and technical sciences. and  become international and and ideas that show international potential and new thinking.