After defending my thesis, I was on top of the world. But what was next? Being a perpetual student trying to pass each hurdle was the focus of my previous 22 years. Now, the ultimate hurdle was complete. My mentor told me, “Matt, this is a critical time for your future. Your steps here forward will shape your career.” No pressure or anything. I decided it was best to do a postdoc in academia, although I had thoughts of industry in my head. I applied to several postdoc positions and was accepted to all. Now comes the difficult part… Which one will be th best fit for my career?
What did I want to gain from the postdoc training opportunity?
1. Translational research with a clinical component
2. Fusion of my molecular biology and immunology skills with bioengineering and chemistry
3. Mastering a new genre of research
4. Powerhouse research atmosphere
5. Opportunities to present at national conferences
6. Publication of middle to top tier publications in a short amount of time
7. Decent pay with loan repayment opportunities
In the end, the offer of postdoctoral training at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research (CHOP) Institute in pediatric cardiology was the best fit to attain my goals of a successful fellowship. CHOP is adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania and the postdoc resources of UPenn are extended to the CHOP postdoc researchers. This met the powerhouse research campus goal, and the endless number of core facilities that strengthen the work done on campus is paramount in obtaining middle to top tier journal publications.
The research was focused on pediatric cardiology and biomaterials. This added the combination of bioengineering and chemistry to my skillset, setting me apart from other researchers with the same degree. In addition, publications and scientific presentations were expected from each member of the research group, allowing me to further develop as an independent scientist. Lastly, one of the main divisions of the NIH loan repayment program is research within the field of pediatrics. This work qualified and allowed for student loan repayment by NIH.
As a member of the University of Pennsylvania postdoc program, I was able to take postgraduate coursework in business and translational science. These courses allowed me to understand the business side of the science and research enterprise. In addition, a course was offered that teaches postdocs how to teach effectively at the university level. I found these courses extremely useful, as most biomedical researchers are never taught now to manage finances and how to effectively lecture new students.
In the end, I feel that I made the right decision. I expanded my knowledge, learned new skills, and developed into an independent scientist. I am using this foundation as the launching pad for my career.