Planning for postdocing...

Mar 12 2012 Published by under Lab, Meetings, Mentoring

I'm getting to the point in my graduate student career where it is time to start contemplating postdoctoral fellowships and all that goes along with that.  I know I want to stay in the DNA repair field but want to shift away from my current spectrum of work into another subfield, maybe the implications of DNA repair in aging or maybe cryptochromes.  Honestly who knows right now.  I'm more looking just to get my name out there by attending some of the smaller more intimate meetings (Gordon, etc.) that are patroned by the movers and shakers in my field.  Hopefully by them seeing me and me seeing them I can lock up a good postdoc.  For those of you in postdocs or who have done one, I would be interested in knowing how did you find your PI and what were the circumstances of setting up your postdoc.

Thanks.

9 responses so far

  • postdoc mom says:

    I'm in a slightly different field than you, but I was looking for ads for postdocs, there were several that seemed ok, so I applied. I got offered the 2 that I applied for. I was already emailing with one of the labs about some data/findings so they were familiar with me and excited to get me on board. I wasn't familiar with the other lab, but I knew a professor that had worked with the guy, so I set up a time for coffee and chatted with the guy I knew and said I was applied for a job with his buddy. I'm sure the two must have talked about me, and was offered that position too.
    I didn't really shop myself around before looking for postdocs, but once I identified a few potential postdocs, I networked and schmoozed my way in. I'm currently applying for another postdoc and things are going in a similar manner...

    My PhD advisor is a somewhat big name in my field and people are always asking if he needs a postdoc. His reply is that if they write a grant, then he would be more than happy to host them. I'm happy to be writing proposals with my current postdoc PI's, but I am not too keen on the idea of writing a proposal to work with someone I don't know well... but maybe this is more common in other fields.

  • Bashir says:

    Fun times! Some of the advice may be a bit field specific. I'm sure my situation is an odd one, as postdocs are still kinda new to my sub-field.

    Short answer to how I got mine: networking. Go to conferences and workshops. Talk to people about research and your plans.

    I thought about what I might want to learn in my postdoc and made a list of researchers and departments that might be good for that. It was a very iterative process. Some labs that started out looking good ended up not so good (and vice versa). In the end it was dumb luck through effort. My now advisor happened to be in charge of a training grant that I was looking into. In an email exchange he basically said "There are no spots. Why don't you come work for me, I had a grant funded last week in your area of research". And all of a sudden I landed a postdoc I wasn't even looking at.

  • I know I want to stay in the DNA repair field[.]

    I strongly recommend that you don't stay so narrowly on the same course for your post-doctoral training. You can always return to DNA repair later in your career, and the most successful scientists in terms of creativity and making novel contributions are those who have trained in diverse areas.

    You already know the DNA repair field, and I'm sure its familiarity is comforting. But you really have to branch out.

    • I was thinking of pursuing it in the context of a whole new field though (with respect to aging, immunology, etc) versus my current work characterizing a given enzyme or is that still too close to home?

  • Yael says:

    I went to seminars and went to the "meet the seminar speaker" lunches hosted by my department. Some people I was planning to apply to turned out to not be so optimal (confirmed by some of their former postdocs). One seminar speaker piqued my interested in a field and was someone I could talk to, so I applied to hir lab. Another one was someone whose papers I had bumped into, happened to be friends with grad advisor and grad advisor suggested me to hir as a potential postdoc at one of those small conferences. Third person I met at a meeting (and also someone grad advisor knows).

    I also tried to talk to a LOT of people (including postdocs and students) at meetings and other places before I applied...some common "do not apply" names do come up quite frequently.

  • Dr 27 says:

    Even as a failed postdoc, I think I can give you some nuggets of info. First, networking and showing interest and excitement for the area and research, and PIs is a good start. A Gordon conference would be a super place, as it is more focused and targeted. As you know, I decided to go wayyy outside of my comfort zone, I not only changed disciplines, I changed fields. And while it is nice to have different tools and different approaches to look at a problem, if you see yourself continuing in the repair field, don't go exuberantly far away like I did. Once you secure places for interviews, not only talk to the boss and let him/her paint a nice, rosy picture of the lab, email people, if they're close enough for you to get together or socialize, do. I didn't exchanged emails with anyone at my postdoc lab, and that would have been one of the best gives I could have given me. I had a former student say that she wanted to scream to me "stay way, don't come, it will crush your spirit." At my current place I'd been in communication with my immediate supervisor since a few weeks after the interview but before the offer, and that gave me a sense of what I was getting myself into. If you have a good relationship with your boss, don't exclude him/her like I did mine. I could have received a lot of input and wisdom from mine, and I didn't. And I regret it a lot.

    I think you've read my postdoc saga, so you have an idea of what to avoid. My main points would be to identify potential mentors, network with them AND the lab, see how it will contribute to your next goal and see what you can contribute. If those conditions are met, then it should be a matter of ironing out the rest of the details.

  • BugDoc says:

    Networking is very valuable for finding out information about labs that you can't get from their publications, i.e. morale, mentorship, etc, although I'm not sure it's as critical for finding postdocs as it is for finding more permanent positions. Before I applied, I identified possible postdoc labs, first by scientific interest and then by asking around to see if these potential postdoc advisors were considered to be good mentors by people in their labs and had a good record of placing people in academic labs since that's the path I was interested in (I only applied to well established labs; obviously that information is harder to come by if you apply to junior faculty labs). When you send your email/cover letter, it makes a good impression not only to mention what aspects of the research in the lab interest you, but also to briefly suggest some ideas or projects that you might like to work on. It's irrelevant whether you actually ever work on those things, but it shows that you've read papers from the lab and that you have also thought about the research enough to come up with some ideas, which will distinguish you from most other applicants. Also, it helps to have your references sent as soon as you send your application. If I'm not necessarily looking for a postdoc I might not go out of my way to ask for references, but if the letters are sent anyway and the applicant looks like they have huge potential, I'm more likely to follow up.

  • A friend of a friend was a postdoc in a lab that was looking to hire another postdoc just as I was writing my thesis and looking for a job. Several emails with the friend's friend were followed by several emails back and forth with the PI, and, as I was in another country, a couple of very early morning phone calls, a job offer, a work visa and then the big move.

    Most of my friends' postdoc positions were also intiated by informal introductions either through current trainees in the postdoc PI's labs, grad advisors, etc, or meetings through the types of situations you mentioned at conferences or seminars.

    Also completely agree with PP's comment and rationale re looking to do a postdoc in a non-DNA repair field if possible. From personal experience, I gained so much more knowledge by doing a postdoc in a different field and that is now paying off as my own independent research is drawing on both my grad and postdoc training to forge a unique and supercool research direction.

  • Cherie says:

    You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic
    to be really something that I think I would never
    understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for
    me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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