By Felix Chiu
BGE Career Strategy & Professional Development
Tips From Our 2nd Annual "How to Get a Post-Doc" Panel
Last week, we hosted our second annual “How to get a post-doc” panel. This year’s panel was moderated by current PhD candidate, Tara Gelb, who recently accepted a post-doc position at the National Cancer Institute. The panel featured:
- Bill Rebeck, PhD: Director, Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience, Georgetown University
- Jeffrey Huang, PhD: Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Georgetown University
- Justin Wilson, PhD: Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Hampton University
- Bridget Queenan PhD: Post-doctoral Fellow, Johns Hopkins University
While some of the same topics from last year were discussed, we’ve highlighted some of the new opinions and information that were shared.
Why should I consider a post-doc position?
BQ: “You should only pursue a post-doc if [the science] is really something you love. If you don’t love it, life will be hard. Don’t set your sights on merely getting a post-doc position. Have a higher level goal set in mind for where you eventually want to end up.”
JH: “Don’t pursue a post-doc if you just don’t know what else to do. In my case, I love what I do. I love the freedom in knowing that I will be able to research what I am passionate about for as long as I want to. There is a fear in industry that if you are working on a particular project, the company can close your department and tell you to work on something else.”
BQ: “If you just like science in a broad perspective, industry might be a good place to start. If you have a specific field or topic you want to pursue, academia will support you.”
Should I pursue a lab that is more precise to what I want to focus on, or one with a more broad focus?
JW: “It’s a personal choice, and its really up to you to decide what you seek to get out of your postdoc experience.”
JH: “Its a sink-or-swim environment if you begin thinking on a different frequency as your PI. There is a different philosophy and a different culture between each lab. It can work for some people but be very hard for others.”
BR: “I need somebody that can be productive for me, even if its not explicitly my topic, [the post-doc’s work] needs to be at least tangentially helpful to me.”
When should I start looking for a post-doc position?
TG: “If I were to do it over again, I would have started looking for a post-doc 6-12 months before I defended. However there is a strategy to it, since if you wait too long offers will come off the table. Prepare more time than you think you are going to need.”
BQ: “I was committed to my postdoc for an entire year before I actually started. I would take advantage of that time in between, since it gave me time to spend with people and pursue other side-projects that contributed to what I wanted to research. Once you start your post-doc, or move up even higher into a faculty position, you will not have time to do these things.
What types of things are PIs looking for?
BR: “Display your awards and publications. I don’t have time to read a CV in depth. When I look at a CV I am looking for a story. A clear interest and passion for something. Teaching experience help will catch attention. However I don’t want to know what your friends/colleagues say about you. I’m interested in the third parties. And that’s what awards and publications show. Somebody outside of your direct body of work verifying that ‘this person is pretty good.’ Also if you can identify a lab or mentor that you want to work for, you can write your own project plan or grant, and sent it to them. That will often impress PIs.”
What is one tangible advice you would give a PhD pursuing a post-doc?
JH: “Leverage your networks. In all but one of the places that I interviewed I personally knew somebody that was able to vouch for me.”
JW: “Talk to your mentors. Go to meetings, and make your communication clear that you are looking for a post-doc position. Emails will not suffice. I had spent a few years away from academia, and when I came back, I had a very limited network. I personally walked straight into the NIH building and literally got my foot in the door and built contacts with people that I was interested in working with.”