To find out more about this job we talked to Ken Oakes, a postdoctoral fellow in modern theology and philosophy at Notre Dame.

Tell us a little about yourself and your studies.

I am originally from Orange County, California, and in high school and college wondered why anyone would ever leave Southern California. The joke was eventually on me, however, as after finishing college in San Diego (CA) I went on to study and teach in Evanston (IL), Aberdeen (Scotland), Tubingen (Germany), and most recently Notre Dame (IN). Although my undergraduate degree was in Biology-Chemistry, now I primarily work in the field of modern theology and philosophy, with particular emphases upon European thought and history. I have written, co-written, translated, and edited a number of books, articles, chapters, and reviews, but my proudest moment remains winning 'Most Likely to Move to Tibet and Become a Monk’ in high school.

Could you give us an overview of what a Postdoctoral Fellow does?

The primary task of a postdoctoral fellow is research, research, research, often under the guidance of a senior faculty member. Practically speaking, doing research means reading, writing, thinking, learning new languages, conducting experiments, presenting your research in public forums, and, most importantly, publishing your findings. Postdoctoral fellows may also teach classes, participate in writing grant applications, and mentor undergraduate or other graduate students. Did I already mention doing research?

Why did you decide to become a Postdoctoral Fellow?

Completing a PhD is supposed to mean that you have become a recognized expert in a field of study. True experts, however, are well-aware of how much more there is to discover, explore, and learn. Having finished my PhD and given the opportunity to continue to research, read, write, and learn about all the things I still knew little about, I decided to become a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tubingen.

How does someone become a Postdoctoral Fellow?

A postdoctoral fellow has a Bachelors degree, often a Masters, and a PhD. Many universities advertize postdoctoral positions, and there are many different non-profit and governmental agencies which provide funding for postdoctoral fellows. Postdoctoral positions typically last between one to three years but can even extend up to seven years and more (particularly in the sciences).

What is the pay like?

Salaries for postdoctoral scholars can range between $35,000 - $60,000 per year.

What are the best parts of being a Postdoctoral Fellow?

The best part of being a postdoctoral fellow is being paid to read, write, and continue learning! There are also all the benefits of university life: a constant stream of new people to meet, intellectual and cultural stimulation, and usually there is a free university gym membership thrown in as well.

What are the biggest challenges in being a Postdoctoral Fellow?

In almost any field, doing research is often a very solitary endeavor, as most of your time is spent by yourself with your books, papers, and test tubes. The hours are also very long as there is much pressure to publish. As postdoctoral fellows are usually on fixed-term contracts, there is also the anxiety of wondering whether your grant or job application will be successful.

Best advice you've ever received?

Don’t be afraid.

Any helpful resources or links on this topic?

The website for the National Postdoctoral Association is Also helpful is The Postdoc Way. A decent look into the life and journey of academics in general can be found in Prosanta Chakrabarty’s A Guide to Academia: Getting into and Surviving Grad School, Postdocs and a Research Job