The Postdoc Core Competencies

What should you expect to get out of your time and effort as a postdoc at UCSF? A publication or two? A new skillset? A recommendation letter?

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) has established a list of six core competencies that postdoctoral scholars may expect to have developed by the end of their postdoc appointment. As you move through your postdoc experience, it may be useful for you to ask yourself if you are on the right track to gain these skills before you finish. If not, reach out to your mentor and/or seek out university resources to help you achieve these basic competencies.

The Six Core Competencies

Postdoctoral scholars are expected to demonstrate a broad base of established and evolving knowledge within their discipline and detailed knowledge of their specific research area. They should understand the gaps, conflicts, limits, and challenges within their research area in order to develop testable hypotheses.

Postdoctoral scholars are expected to be able to design sound research protocols, safely perform the techniques necessary to conduct and analyze this research, and navigate the grant application and scientific publishing processes.

In any professional environment, the ability to communicate your thoughts in a way that others will readily understand you is critical. Communication is more than preparing and sending a message; it is making every effort to be sure that the message is heard and understood by the appropriate audience.

Postdoctoral scholars are expected to adhere to accepted professional standards and practices within their immediate workplace (e.g., laboratory, office), institution, and discipline. They are also expected to reflect and advance the values of their profession in the wider community.

Postdoctoral scholars should have the skills and techniques needed to facilitate effective teamwork, manage day to day operations in their workplace, and pursue leadership opportunities at the local, institutional, regional, and national levels. These skills will also help you to mentor others more successfully.

Postdoctoral scholars should receive training in the responsible conduct of research to improve their abilities to make ethical and legal choices. This training should provide them with an appreciation of the range of accepted research practices; familiarize them with the relevant regulations, policies, statutes, and guidelines governing the conduct of their research; and make them aware of the resources to which they can turn when ethical questions and concerns arise.

This guide has been adapted from the website of the National Postdoctoral Association, where you can read more about the core competencies and how they were conceived and developed. You can also download the list of competencies there. The NPA is a great resource for postdocs! The Postdoc Office encourages all UCSF postdocs to get involved with the NPA and UCSF's own Postdoctoral Scholars' Association.