Duke Office of Postdoctoral Services marks its 15th year of service

Providing guidance and resources to promote postdoctoral training at Duke and prepare Duke postdocs for successful careers.

“Your path you must decide.
Each choice, the branch of a tree is.
What looked like a decision, is after only a pattern of growth.”


When I was a graduate student, I thought getting a PhD was like reaching the summit of a mountain. But it turned out that once you reach it, you find yourself at the bottom of a yet steeper academic climb. The following postdoctoral years are incredibly stressful. In a short period of time, you are expected to become famous, make discoveries that put your imprint on the field, publish, give talks at conferences, get to know influential people in your field and beyond, get invitations to speak, learn to lead, to get funding. And you need to get on job market right away. Very often this is also the time when people start a family, which adds to the pile of your responsibilities -- things like making sure your partner sees you at least some evenings a week, and caring for your younglings. During this challenging time, your postdoctoral adviser should be your mentor, your coach, your critic, your champion, and often they are. But if you are not lucky, you need all support you can get.

Molly Starback is the founding director of the Duke Office of Postdoctoral Services. Opened in 2006, OPS is the central resource for over 600 Duke postdocs in arts and sciences, engineering and medicine. It serves as a liaison between postdocs, faculty, administrators, and staff, promotes postdoctoral training at Duke and prepares postdocs for successful careers both within and beyond academia. OPS works side-by-side with the Duke University Postdoctoral Association, the Duke Career Center, the Graduate School, and external partners to provide relevant programming. As Duke University builds a diverse postdoctoral population, the OPS promotes a culture of inclusivity, compassion, and mutual respect.

Molly came to Duke after serving as  the Director of Career Development for the UNC Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Health, and holding several leadership positions at the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) and  Association of American Medical Colleges Graduate Research Education and Training (AAMC GREAT). As one of her first tasks at Duke, Molly has worked with Duke senior leadership and administrators to create the Duke Postdoctoral Policy. She oversees implementation of the policy, and provides individual career counseling for postdocs,  and develops professional development programs on topics including the academic job search, careers beyond academia, mentoring and communication, and grantwriting. She is also the one behind the Postdoctoberfest, a yearly appreciation event at which awards are presented to the Outstanding Postdoc and Postdoc Mentor at Duke.

“We all share the NPA mission of fostering an inclusive community where postdocs are empowered, valued, recognized, and supported in their current and future endeavors,” says Molly. “From our postdocs, I have the privilege of learning about innovative research from all walks of campus. I am also inspired by our professional development and research community, including my Duke colleagues from the Graduate School, the Career Center, OBGE, the ASIST office, and the IDEALS office.”

The former Duke postdocs who worked with OPS sound eternally grateful. A typical example of the feedback, coming from a former Duke postdoc Kristi Norris is: “Molly was instrumental during my job search and incredibly knowledgeable about a variety of career tracks. She was my support system throughout the process.”

At home, Molly and her husband Peter tend to their vegetable garden, their flock of Ameraucana chickens, and their black cat Busby. A former member of the Duke feral cat colony, he now rules their household.