VCU Forensic Science Faculty in the News

a man wearing a blue shirt

Christopher Ehrhardt

Assistant professor of forensic science at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond

Initially, I did a postdoc because I thought it would be a good way to transition into a more applied field of study compared to what I worked on as a Ph.D. student. I was also eager to get a few more papers under my belt before my next career step. I ended up completing two different postdoc experiences, one through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and the other at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Both were really valuable in terms of learning new techniques and instruments, getting practice writing proposals, and learning how to multitask between several projects happening at once.

But what I found most valuable was the experience managing a small research team. As a graduate student, I was working mostly independently on my research, and although I actively collaborated with several people both within and outside the university, my work and progress were not dependent on their contributions. As a postdoc, though, I had to monitor the research output from all the team members, integrate them with my own results, and manage various resources in the lab to make sure we hit all our deadlines and milestones. In the same way, this was also probably my greatest challenge as a postdoc. It was also really great practice for being a PI!

My advice is to pay attention to opportunities to learn “non-bench” skills needed for the next part of your career. Have conversations with PIs or other lead scientists about strategies for managing group dynamics or fiscal matters, and definitely take every opportunity to lead proposal writing efforts. As you progress in your career, your non-bench skills become an increasingly important part of your professional responsibilities.

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