What does a postdoc do?

Published: February 28, 2018

Flor Enghel, Postdoctoral Researcher Fellow at Stockholm University’s Department of Media Studies in 2016-2017, gave an exit Higher Seminar on February 22, 2018. Convened by the Leading Research Environment “Global Media Studies and the Politics of Mediated Communication”, the event addressed the issue of postdoctoral trajectories from a self-reflexive perspective. In this blogpost, she shares a brief account of the seminar as her farewell to the Department.

What does a postdoc do? This question, raised in the recently published collection “The Postdoc Landscape – The Invisible Scholars” (Jaeger & Dindin, 2017), underpinned my exit seminar at Stockholm University’s Department of Media on February 22, 2018. Starting from the definitions of what a postdoc is provided by the North American National Postdoctoral Association and the Swedish Association for University Teachers and Researchers, I accounted for work done during my two-year stint as a Research Fellow within the Department’s Leading Research Environment “Global Media Studies and the Politics of Mediated Communication”. As part of a public exercise that brought together the Department’s authorities, colleagues across various career stages, and former students, I introduced my forthcoming publications and ongoing research.

A slide from my presentation "What does a postdoc do?" referring to a forthcoming publication produced at IMS.

By combining academic analysis with practical examples, I ‘did reflexivity’ (Dean, 2017) on failures and successes, drew attention to contextual and structural opportunities and obstacles encountered along the way, and shared lessons learnt. The latter, having to do with career-building strategies and unspoken realities concerning recruitment, were especially dedicated to early career scholars in the Department who must struggle with raising concerns about their future working life in the context of academic job scarcity.

The seminar moreover served as an exercise in writing the scholarly work that I did during 2016 and 2017 into the organizational context in which I conducted it. Awareness of the structural problem of postdoc invisibility discussed by Jaeger & Dindin (2017) led me to engage in an act of visibility. According to these authors, postdocs often feel invisible as a consequence of the fact that they are relatively invisible: in statistics because of significant discrepancies in the ways in which their positions are named and set up by different institutions, in university campuses that do not assign human resources to serving their career-development needs, and in scholarly literature that still ignores them despite the fact that the amount of postdoc positions has grown in recent years.

My ‘doing reflexivity’ on instances of being rejected (both by competitive research funders and by academic journals), on the strategic reformulation of research goals and publishing outcomes based on feedback provided by reality, and on the pressing need to prioritize professional training required by the academic marketplace without losing sight of research work, was followed by rich questions from colleagues, which we addressed in dialogue. The seminar, which served as my way of saying 'so long!' to the Department, pointed to the importance of giving postdocs freedom to outline their career-development goals as they see fit in combination with systematic mentored opportunities to revise their strategies and engage in collaboration with more senior colleagues.

Forthcoming publications, to be released in May 2018, include Enghel, M.F. & Noske-Turner, J. Communication in International Development: Doing Good or Looking Good? London: Routledge, and Enghel, M.F. and Becerra, M. co-editors (forthcoming in 2018) Special Issue of Communication Theory “Latin American communication theory today: charting contemporary developments and their global relevance”.


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