February 21, 2018, by Lisa Chin

Postdoctoral Journey

This post is written by Arun Prabhakar, postdoctoral researcher at the Gas Turbines Transmissions Research Centre (G2TRC), University of Nottingham (UK).

With few months away from closing the chapter of my life as a PhD student, I was offered a postdoctoral research position at the University of Nottingham in the Gas Turbines Transmissions Research Centre (G2TRC). G2TRC is also the home to the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre (UTC). When I was offered this position, I was in the latter phase of my PhD where I was wrapping up research work and about to commence writing my thesis. My PhD research was focused in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and I worked on multiphase flows and applications where modelling the complex and turbulent flow of oil and air in aero engines was crucial. This opportunity posed as the perfect place for me to step into and pursue my research career, considering the type of research work being carried out at the G2TRC.

The transition from a PhD student to a postdoctoral researcher was indeed a challenge. Adapting to a completely new culture seemed a bit hard. Thankfully my supervisor Professor Herve Morvan and colleagues from the G2TRC gave me a warm welcome and helped me to settle into the new environment. Having spent 5 and half years in Malaysia to which I got really comfortable, it was a challenge adapting to a different lifestyle. Despite being far away from my comfort zones, the fact that I had come over for a purpose, motivated me to make great use of the platform that I have been given.

Following five months of research as a postdoctoral researcher and finishing my first project successfully, I feel much more confident about myself and feel certain that all the things I learned during the course of PhD is very much applicable to a wider area.  I have found that the depth to which research is carried in certain projects during postdoctoral research may be much lower than a PhD project. This is solely because of the time duration and the funding that the projects are associated. During the course of a PhD you work on a project for 3 years, whereas the same project could be expected to be completed in a year or even 6 months during postdoctoral research. The duration of a project being short means that the workload in this window period is higher and work life can be stressful at times. Postdoctoral work involves in applying research knowledge that has been acquired during a PhD to a project and in general it is expected from a postdoc to have a strong foundation in the basics of the field when commencing. You have less learning time to work or study on the basic principles. The learning process during your research continues at a higher depth throughout the postdoctoral journey. My advice to current PhD students, is to dedicate more time to strengthen many of the underlying and basic concepts. It would also be worthwhile to investigate about other aspects slightly away from your main objectives of your research if you have the opportunity and time to do so. This will actually help you to kick-start your postdoc life. Furthermore the dependency on your supervisor during postdoctoral research is lesser compared to the time during the PhD. You will be expected to solve almost all issues and problems by yourself. In fact you will be treated more like an expert in your field and will also be anticipated to have a sound knowledge to approaching a wide range of problems in the field. Having a diverse knowledge about your field acquired from your PhD research could prove to be very helpful during postdoctoral research.

As a postdoc you will also be expected to publish a number of results and data that you produce in journals and conferences. Once again during postdoctoral life you will not be given time to practice on your writing skills. Hence it is essential to get used to the style of writing papers and strengthen those skills during your time as a PhD student. I have actually found myself improving drastically in these skills after engaging and attending courses at the Graduate School in UNMC when I was a PhD student. I highly recommend current PhD students to make good use of the opportunity and attend as many of the training courses offered by the Graduate School during your PhD. The training courses offered at the Graduate School are tailored in such a way that they teach students to be confident about their research work and this is very crucial to complete the PhD and face the viva at the end of the PhD. Many of the skills that I had acquired from the training courses from the Graduate School without a doubt have helped me boost my confidence. They have also helped me face many of the people and institutions to whom my research had to be presented to outside University. Dr Tissa and Dr Jiin from the Graduate School have indeed been great sources of support and pillars who have done a great job in motivating not only me but other postgraduate students.

I was lucky enough to work under the guidance of really supportive and knowledgeable supervisors, Dr Yousif Abdalla Abakr and Dr Kathy Simmons, for my PhD. Both my supervisors had advised me to start applying well ahead of time for research positions and jobs which I had started doing during my PhD. It was then I had come across this current research position from the G2TRC and applied for it. Similarly I would also advise current PhD students nearing the end of their journey and hoping to do postdoctoral research to start applying well before they graduate. It is quite usual for your applications to get rejected when you don’t have the PhD in hand but don’t get disheartened when it happens, and keep trying.

Before I can end this article I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and the Engineering Faculty for getting me this far. I was always given endless support ever since my days as an undergraduate student to a PhD student where I was awarded the Dean’s Excellence Research Scholarship without which I would have not been able to pursue my PhD. UNMC is a place that has taught me so many valuable things and the experience that UNMC had given me is unmatchable without a doubt.

Posted in News and EventsPostgraduate lifeResearcher Development