Discover Science

What’s a Post-doc? The face of the next generation of scientists


With the announcement of the Stucky Postdoctoral Fellowship

at the Museum, many of you may be asking, “What is a postdoctoral fellow?” That’s a fair question and as your current Museum postdoctoral fellows, we’re here to help!

Postdoctoral fellows, aka postdocs, are scholars employed on temporary, 1- to 3-year fellowships. A postdoc is often the next career step following completion of one’s dissertation—the gigantic tome written to complete a Ph.D. in graduate school. Postdoc positions are intended to be a stepping stone that leads to a more permanent position. Sometimes they even lead to a job at the same institution—as with the Museum’s former curator, Ian Miller.

Donor- and grant-funded postdoc positions help the next generation prepare for permanent positions in the scientific arena in ways that aren’t possible in graduate school. At your Museum, this involves developing museum curation and collections management skills, grant-writing skills, and new field and laboratory skills—all while publishing research in peer-reviewed journals and growing professional networks in the scientific community. Museum postdocs also engage in outreach and service—presenting public and scientific talks on their research, giving tours, hosting interns and Teen Science Scholars, and helping with pop-up exhibits and programs.

What most people don’t know is that, because postdocs aren’t as busy with later-career responsibilities, they are usually the most productive scholars, bar none. And, they are usually the most diverse, both because postdocs bring new types of science to institutions like your Museum and because many are from groups that are underrepresented in science fields.

Your Museum currently hosts us as externally funded postdoctoral fellows, and we’re both in the Department of Earth Sciences. Here’s a little more about us.

Holger Petermann

I've been a postdoc at the Museum since 2020, and had the misfortune of starting just a few weeks before the pandemic forced the Museum’s longest closure to the public. I initially worked on the Colorado Springs Research Project with curators Tyler Lyson and Ian Miller on the restructuring of environments after the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction. I springboarded off this work into a postdoc with Curator James Hagadorn on reconstructing how the Rocky Mountain region evolved over the last 550 million years.

Gussie Maccracken

My early career included several internships at the Museum. I’m a paleobotanist who researches the diversity of plants through time, alongside their ecological interactions with insect herbivores. Right now, I’m documenting how plant and insect communities survived the K–Pg mass extinction and the tempo of their co-recovery. A key part of that effort is characterizing the flora for the Colorado Springs Research Project. If you haven’t already seen the incredible fossils from this new discovery, check out the “After the Asteroid” exhibition on the first floor of the Museum.

Unlike many institutions that have multiple endowed postdoc programs, your Museum is relatively new to the postdoc arena. But we’re catching up fast.

As more postdocs come to the Museum, there is opportunity to grow the types of science done here, to diversify the faces of science and to engage with other scientists and the public in new ways. Postdocs are an investment by your Museum in future young scientists, similar to other institutions’ investment in young researchers who are now museum curators.

So next time you see one of us leading tours, doing fieldwork, working in the lab and collections spaces or giving a talk, please say hello. We’d love to engage with you about our work and hear about your early career journeys, too!

One More Thing

If you’re interested in learning how you can support the Museum’s postdoctoral fellows, visit the Stucky Fund

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