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Sonia Jaberi's postdoc experience

Introducing Sonia

Headshot of Sonia JaberiSonia Jaberi (she/her) completed her Bachelor's of Environmental Engineering-Natural Resources at Shiraz University in Iran in 2012, followed by a Masters of Environmental Engineering-Pollutions at Isfahan University of Technology (IUT) in 2014. Sonia then came to the University of Waterloo for her PhD of Civil and Environmental Engineering-Water Resources. During her PhD, Sonia participated in the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program provided through the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and completed the program in 2019. CUT taught her to be self-aware and be a critically reflective teacher with both theoretical knowledge and skills to succeed in an academic career. At the end of 2021 Sonia completed her PhD and transitioned into a postdoctoral position in the same department.

New postdoc experience

As Sonia completed her PhD in the same department she began her postdoc in, she explains that she did not face many of the anticipated challenges of getting to know the place, people, or rules, but did have to adapt to her new role. Sonia also found that it wasn’t only her that needed to adapt to the new role of postdoc, rather than student, but others who worked with her while she was a student also needed to adapt to her new role, and she has had to navigate challenges where other still treat her as a student. However, within her new research group, Sonia shares the environment has been welcoming and supportive, which has helped create a smooth transition.

Part of transitioning to her postdoc role has included developing independence. Sonia shares that moving from a grad student to postdoc role typically involves both greater independence and greater responsibility, while also learning new projects and working in new places. For Sonia, this meant she felt the pressure to complete tasks, learn about the new project, and write and submit research papers all during the first month of her postdoc! To support managing this large workload, Sonia arranged a meeting with her supervisor to help her prioritize the tasks. She also began to break large tasks into manageable ones and allocated time for each. As she started being able to mark tasks on her to-do list as complete, Sonia explains, “[I] gained more confidence eventually after completing one after another”. From this, Sonia says, “while it can be challenging at first, gradually, you take ownership of your research project”.

Seeking guidance and feedback have also been essential to Sonia’s transition to her postdoc appointment. Sonia shares that she received valuable guidance from both her supervisor and research group, and encourages others to seek guidance and feedback often. As Sonia’s husband had also been a postdoc at UWaterloo for a long time (5 years!), she had a “built-in” go-to person to ask about thinks like Workday, HR forms, or guidance about being a postdoc, in general. Other postdocs may not have this type of go-to person in their home, so she encourages others to find senior postdocs that they can go to for guidance in any aspect of research or policy.

Advice to other postdocs

When asked what advise she would give to new postdocs, Sonia has three main pieces of advice. First, “discuss and establish clear expectations with your supervisor regarding your research goals, project timeline, and desired outcomes” – making sure you’re on the same page is important to success! Second, if you’re new to campus, Sonia says “learn about it”. There are many resources for postdocs including career resources, Human Resources and athletics. Thirdly, Sonia says to “network actively”. One way Sonia suggests doing this is through various events, conferences, workshops or seminars where there are opportunities to build connections that can provide collaboration, guidance and even friendships.

Finally, Sonia encourages other postdocs to be aware of imposter syndrome, the feeling like you are not worthy or competent despite all your achievements. Sonia admits that she (and many other postdocs) have experienced this, and encourages that others, “recall that it is a common phenomenon and that your accomplishments have led you to your postdoc position! Focus on building confidence through acknowledging your strengths and seeking support”. Sonia says that everyone experiences doubts at times, but “stay curious, persevere through challenges, and make the most of this exciting phase in your research journey!”