Education Research International / 2018 / Article / Tab 3

Review Article

Professional Learning and Development of Postdoctoral Scholars: A Systematic Review of the Literature

Table 3

Overview of studies about professional development and learning for postdocs.

Author/year countryStudy aimsStudy designParticipantsResearch fieldsResults

Åkerlind (2005) [13], AustraliaTo explore postdocs perceptions of the nature of their current positions and concerns about their future career prospectsQualitative Interviews22 postdocs and 10 postdoc supervisorsMathematics, physics, chemistry, Earth sciences, engineering, biological sciences, agriculture, health sciences, social sciences, and humanitiesIdentified need for (1) opportunities to develop skills in undergraduate teaching, supervision of research students, and grant writing; (2) support to attend skill development courses and academic conferences; and (3) options for those seeking general advice, support, and networking
Ash et al. (2009) [32], USATo document graduate student and postdoc practices and attitudes regarding teaching in higher education and their perspectives regarding professional developmentEthnography120 graduate students and postdocsScienceIncreased awareness and interest in different teaching and facilitation practices
Baiduc et al. (2016) [33], USATo evaluate a professional learning and development program, examine its impact, and modify it based on participant feedbackPre-post survey54 graduate students and 22 postdocs over 4 cohortsBiology, engineering, math, and physical sciencesAll program components were highly rated and provided benefits in different respects with no consensus on most valuable aspects. Some found the readings most useful; others benefitted from interactions with the peer community and their faculty mentors
Bauer et al. (2013) [34], USAPreworkshop survey aimed to explore prior knowledge and experience, academic history, and self-efficacy for teaching and motivation. Postworkshop questions sought beliefs, concerns and plan, and perspective regarding teaching and learningMixed methodsPostdocs and graduate studentsChemistryIncreased confidence and self-efficacy in implementing active learning pedagogies, increased awareness of SoTL literature, and a shift from focusing on teaching to a focus on learning
Bessudnov et al. (2015) [35], Europe (not countries specified)To investigate the effects of a large and structured postdoctoral program on academic and nonacademic outcomesSurvey155 postdocsSocial sciences: economics, social and political science, history, and lawStatistically significant positive effect on the general life satisfaction of former fellows and their publication activity ()
Brancaccio-Taras et al. (2016) [36], USATo assess gains as a result of participating in a Science Teaching Fellows Program, pre- and postactivity knowledge, and actions resulting from participationSummative evaluation survey92 graduate studentsMicrobiologyGains confidence in (1) developing active learning instruction for small classes (82.35%), (2) writing questions that align with learning goals (71.43%), (3) writing learning goals measuring higher-order thinking (74.29%), and (4) talking to others about teaching approaches (70.59%), teaching needs (67.65%), and career goals in science education (64.71%)
94 postdocs
48 faculty
1 other
Chang et al. (2008) [37], USATo assess participant satisfaction and usefulness of specific sessions professional development sessionsSummative evaluation survey30 postdocs and junior facultyNot specifiedMost participants’ “strongly agreed” meeting objectives were valuable and being met and indicated the importance of having a facilitator with expertise
Chen et al. (2015) [38], CanadaTo examine activities postdoctoral scholars intentionally engage in to enhance their preparedness for desired careers and factors they perceive as facilitating or constraining their preparation for desired careersNarrative inquiry7 postdocsSocial sciences and STEMParticipants prepared for desired careers differently depending on available resources including intellectual, networking, and institutional activities. Those with more access to institutional resources (especially a supportive supervisor) and broader networks had smoother postdoctoral phases and positive experiences of preparing for their desired careers
4 assistant professors
Cox et al. (2011) [39], USATo explore participant’s experiences before, during, and after their affiliations with a research centre’s professional development, the impact these experiences had, and how participants implemented their learning during and after their participationSurvey30 academic consultants, tenure-track faculty, academic staff, and postdocsBioengineering Educational TechnologiesRespondents differed in their familiarity, application, and operationalization of effective instruction after participation in professional development activities. The greatest impact was on teaching; the least impact was career choices. Respondents who engaged in research while participating used assessment-centered dimension in their work more often than those who did not engage in research (chi-square = 8.611; ). Respondents who participated the longest are the most frequent users of the knowledge-centered dimension (chi-square = 19.506; ), the assessment-centered dimension (chi-square = 30.197, ), and the community-centered dimension (chi-square = 26.871, )
Derting et al. (2016) [40], USATo test the effectiveness of a professional development program for postdoctoral scholars, by conducting a study of program alumniSurveyPostdoctoral scholars: 19 program participants and 17 nonprogram participantsBiologyProgram participants reported using active learning and interactive engagement in lecture sessions more frequently than nonprogram participants. External reviewers documented program participants who taught class sessions that were learner-centered, contrasting with the teacher-centered class sessions of most nonprogram participants. Despite marked differences in teaching practice, all participants used assessments targeting lower-level cognitive skills
Ebert-May et al. (2015) [41], USATo determine the extent to which postdocs believed in and implemented evidence-based pedagogies after completing a 2-yr professional development programMixed methods190 postdocsBiologyGreater use of learner-centered compared with teacher-centered strategies. Despite practice of higher-level cognition in class sessions, assessments of learning focused on lower-level cognitive skills
Eisen and Eaton (2017) [42], USATo explore if postdocs who have intensive training in both research and teaching, perform well or better than traditional research-only fellows in publishing, obtaining, and remaining in research-related employment, and earning research grant support once employed and if success in these areas may in part be due to the community that emerges as a result of explicit and structured training in teaching and research togetherMixed methods: case study177 postdocsSciencePublication rate of postdocs who have intensive training in both research and teaching that exceeds the rate for both comparison groups ( for Emory T32 fellows, for T32 fellows from other institutions). Fellows appreciated the cohorts and community and training and mentoring in teaching, especially in conjunction with training in research. Other emergent themes included the opportunity to have an excellent research experience, to teach and network, the chance to obtain leadership and administrative experiences, having independent funding, and gaining confidence and focus in general as a scholar
Gerdeman et al. (2007) [43], USATo evaluate the impact of career development workshops and seminarsSurvey24 facultyChemistryThe three most highly rated seminar components were developing a teaching philosophy; learning about the system of higher education; and discussing learning theory
8 postdocs
Gianaros (2006) [44], USATo evaluate a problem-based learning seminar on scientific writing for psychology graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, and junior facultySurvey3 graduate studentsPsychologyParticipants reported improved writing skills (M = 3.70; SD = 0.61), peer-reviewing skills, and writing productivity
5 postdocs
Hobin et al. (2014) [45], USATo examine awareness, use, benefits of creating an individual development plan (IDP), and ways to facilitate its usesurvey57 postdoc administratorsNot specifiedMost postdoctoral administrators (>80%) were familiar with IDPs, less than 50% of postdocs and only 20% of mentors were aware of IDPs. Creating an IDP helped postdocs identify skills and abilities necessary for career success and facilitated communication between postdocs and their mentors
267 postdocs
Holtzclaw et al. (2005) [46], USATo analyze the postdocs preparedness for future faculty positionsMixed methods: survey and interviews47 postdocs, half of whom are minorities and three quarters are womenScienceTeaching skills increased from slightly to greatly. Unexpected benefits include increased postdoc community, increased participation by minorities, and increased research and teaching collaborations between the two institutes
Jadavji et al. (2016) [1], CanadaTo identify postdocs perspectives regarding supports and obstacles to desired outcomes of their postdoctoral positionSurvey2109 postdocsInterdisciplinary, social sciences, physical sciences, and life sciencesThe majority of postdocs do not participate in external training activities. Training that would be of interest to international postdocs included English-language training and writing skills. Project management, grant writing, and career development remain the top areas of interest for more than 40% of postdocs
Keen-Rhinehart et al. (2009) [47], USATo investigate the effects of interactive teaching methods learned through professional development programs, by testing two interactive teaching methodologies to determine if they would improve learning and retention when compared with standard lecturesMixed methods: test and student comments65 students of postdoc fellowsNeuroscienceTeaching training-enhanced postdocs ability to integrate innovative teaching methods into their instruction. Data from student evaluations demonstrated postdocs have exceptional teaching skills, especially in keeping students engaged, using of technology and overall effectiveness. Interactive teaching methods improved student’s ability to understand and retain class material
Kuhn and Castano (2016) [48], USATo examine participant expectations of the program and their subjective baseline skills and measure improvement at the end of the programPre-post survey70 postdoc mentors were senior postdocs in the last years of their postdoctoral training and mentees were junior postdocs in their first two years of postdoctoral trainingScienceSelf-assessment revealed significant improvement in knowledge and skills including competency in development of career skills, exploring nontraditional careers, learning how to transition to industry, academic problem resolution, networking, interviewing skills, CV preparation, grant writing, science communication, and improvement of work-life balance. Mentors strongly agreed the program met their expectations and highly recommend it. One year after the program, 46.6% of mentees were promoted to instructors/junior faculty (20%), college professors (6.6%), or staff researchers (6.6%) and 13.3% moved to industry scientist positions
Lee et al. (2010) [49], UKTo determine the experiences, opportunities, and challenges of postdoctoral researchers in relation to academic achievements, research environments, previous experiences, future career motivations, and skill developmentSurvey46 postdocsMedicinePostdocs rated eight competencies as significantly more skilled compared to the mean including research skills and techniques, personal effectiveness, teams/networking, recognising and validating problems, and demonstrating original independent research, critical skills, analysis, and knowledge of recent advances in their field. Skills that fell below average related to career development, communication, and awareness of research environment, which were associated with higher publication rates and improved by career mobility, suggesting those skills, are key to the development of researchers and their employability
Matyas et al. (2011) [50], USATo identify topics and issues important to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and new investigators in physiologySurveys362 graduate students, 276 postdocs, and 111 new investigatorsPhysiologyIdentified needs closely related to specific career stages with mentoring, teaching, and managing a laboratory and authorship polices were highly rated topics of interest. More professional activities were desired for writing grants and manuscripts, funding and award opportunities, attending and presenting at meetings, learning about awards and travel funding, reviewing manuscripts, career options available, job searching and interviewing, advancement and promotion, negotiation skills, international issues, and balancing family and career
McAlpine et al. (2017) [51], UKTo assess and document postdocs perceived challenges to achieving PI-ship, where they wanted help and forms of support that would be beneficialQualitative interviews60 postdocs across disciplines in three universitiesNot specifiedFuture development activities should incorporate positive coping strategies in developing resilience. Personal lives (e.g., partner and childcare) influence work choices. Many new PIs felt ill prepared for their responsibilities including growing a research group, managing and enabling others, and dealing with personnel/human resource issues
McCullough (2010) [52], Africa (countries not specified)To evaluate the use of personal development planning (PDP) as a strategy to enhance, plan, and manage career developmentMixed methods: surveys and interviews10 PhD students and 14 postdocsNot specifiedPDP positively enhanced and progressed career development and increased confidence in planning and managing career development and progression
Mitchell et al. (2013) [2], CanadaTo present demographic data about Canadian postdocs and to identify their primary concernsSurvey1830 postdocsNot specifiedPostdoctoral training rarely includes the professional skills needed to succeed in nonacademic settings. Postdocs are interested in grant writing and proposal writing (67.3%), research ethics (7.9%), French language skills (12.6%), English-language skills (14%), conflict resolution skills (16.2%), presentation skills (16.6%), intellectual property (20.1%), writing skills (25.6%), negotiating skills (28.4%), group or lab management (37%), teaching skills (40.9%), career development (47.3%), and project management (48.4%)
Phillips (2010) [53], UKTo understand postgraduate students and postdocs views about enterprise skills training and identify their future needsQualitative: focus groups4 postgraduates and 4 postdocsNot specifiedHalf of participants attended seminars on presentation skills and/or time management with varying usefulness. Reasons for not completing training included timing, lack of supervisor support, lack of awareness of existing training, and lack of time. Topic suggestions for future training included sales and marketing, management, handling rejection, explaining science to nonscientists, and risk and uncertainty management
Reid Ponte (2015) [54], USATo rate and comment on professional development program components and identify what helped and/or impeded goal achievement, aspects of the program that would benefit from change, and whether they would recommend the program to a colleagueMixed methods: survey and interviews4 postdocs, 3 nurse mentors, and 4 interdisciplinary mentorsNursingThe number of courses taken by the fellows ranged between 0 and 5, and those who took courses generally found them very useful. There was some dissatisfaction with the amount of information given about available educational resources. Mentors described a positive experience when a good working relationship was established, and the mentee was productive. Mentors described a less positive relationship when the mentee was unhappy or not very productive or asking for frequent interaction. None of the mentors described the time requirement as burdensome
Rybarczyk et al. (2016) [55], USATo examine factors that promote the transition of postdocs into academic careers in STEMMixed methods: productivity metrics and interviews77 postdocs (80% female and 10% underrepresented minorities) and 10 of whom were interviewedSTEMPostdocs intended career outcome, not demographics or the type undergraduate institution attended, predicts the actual career outcome attained. The total number of publications (OR: 2.75; 95% CI: 0.97–7.80; ), four or more first-author publications (OR: 3.57; 95% CI: 1.12–11.35; ), and discipline area (OR: 5.27; 95% CI: 1.11–24.87; ) were positive and significant predictors of actual career outcomes. Number of courses taught and students mentored were positive variables but not significant predictors of career outcomes. Scholars who attained tenure-track faculty positions had a greater number of publications (mean = 7.5; median = 6) compared with scholars who transitioned into nontenure-track or nonacademic positions (mean = 5.6; median = 5). All 10 alumni felt prepared for their new positions, at ease with teaching and transitioning into their new faculty roles. Pedagogical skills and teaching experience were key components of preparation
Rybarczyk et al. (2011) [16], USATo identify if formal postdoctoral training programs, that include additional training in teaching, increase the probability of obtaining an academic position and if the program provides measurable, positive impact on undergraduate educationSurveyOver 700 postdocsSTEMNo significant differences in number of scholars publishing, publication rates, or length of time in postdoc positions, between the comparison group and those who attended additional training in teaching. Increased interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning resulted in broader impacts on undergraduate education including changes in course structure, engagement of students in research-based courses, inquiry-based teaching, introducing technology in the classroom, and the development and assessment of learning tools such as case studies

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