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Knocking on the Door: How to Leave Your Postdoc Position

A woman steels herself as she knocks on an office door.

Guest post by Parnaz Daneshpajouhnejad, M.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The following is not Daneshpajouhnejad's own personal experience but rather inspired by a talk by Megan Bohn, assistant director of postdoctoral affairs, during the event, “Exit Interview: How to Tell the Boss You’re Moving On,” held by the University Health Services Office of Wellness and Health Promotion and the Policy and Advocacy Committee of the Johns Hopkins Postdoctoral Association.

Two years ago, I was working in a lab as a postdoctoral research fellow, and everything was good. Whenever someone asked me about my job, I always said that I had a good relationship with my faculty mentor, and that we had worked on several projects that led to fascinating results. Despite being happy, something was not right. I tried to convince myself that everything was good, but in my deepest moments, I sometimes thought that I did not like my job. I had no specific reason for it, so I ignored the thought all the time. I spoke with a friend about this nagging feeling, and she told me to think deeper about what could be the problem. That night, I realized that the reason for my nagging doubts was that I felt undervalued and had no more room for promotion and growth. I realized that the reason I resisted my feelings was that, deep in my heart, I did not want to risk the change and lose my current job to find a new one.

Change is natural, but it’s something I both love and hate. Working as a postdoc, you see familiar faces every day (even some you wouldn’t mind not seeing!). You see familiar buildings, and even the path from home to work is the same every day. Although you know that you can deal with anything life throws at you, still you are reluctant to change, and you desperately grab on to what you already have for as long as you can.

Besides a fear of change, I had another fear — talking about it with my faculty mentor. How would this affect my reputation in the field? Would it hurt my references for future jobs?

The most challenging part for me was to knock on the door. I tried several avoidance techniques, including convincing myself an email might be best, but in the end, I came to the conclusion that talking face to face — although difficult — is the right thing to do. I tried not to overthink it, knocked on the door, went inside and started talking. Some tips I learned from my experience:

  • A little perspective helps. Keep in mind that leaving a job is something that happens every day in the world, and you are not the only one doing this.
  • You don’t need to explain in detail why you came to the decision to leave. Keep it short and professional.
  • Try to focus on the positive aspects of your time at the position. Now is not the time to rehash issues or gossip about the position.
  • Discuss how you are going to transition your responsibilities before your departure.
  • Thank your faculty mentor for the time working together.

I had a very difficult time deciding how and when to do this and move on toward my future, but believe me, once I did, I felt a huge surge of relief and happiness!

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