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International Postdoc Survival Guide Introduction Print Email

Being an international postdoc in the United States can be a daunting experience. There is the initial decision to move thousands of miles away from home; the possible language barrier, the culture shock, and the other challenges one may face on arrival; the acclimatizing to life as a scientist in the U.S. and the periodic visa difficulties that have to be negotiated when travelling in and out of the country.

In order to help alleviate some of these stresses and better inform current and prospective international postdocs, the NPA has created an online resource, the Survival Guide for International Postdocs. The Survival Guide was compiled by members of the former International Postdoc Committee with the expert assistance of university international offices and postdoctoral offices, as well as an immigration attorney. It draws on the experiences of current and former postdocs who have travelled to the U.S. to do their postdoctoral training.

Table of Contents

 

Several sections of the Survival Guide have been written specifically for prospective postdocs. Postdoc-ing in the U.S. describes for the uninitiated what it is like to do a fellowship in this country and how it may differ from similar experiences within other countries. Going in With Your Eyes Open offers advice on what people should ask before they accept a postdoctoral fellowship position in the U.S. There is also advice for international postdocs for whom English is a foreign language.

Once one arrives in the U.S., there can be a baffling array of tasks to be accomplished, such as obtaining a social security number or a driver’s license. Signposts to Living in the U.S. provides the appropriate direction. Arriving in a foreign country with no credit history can also be problematic. Credit history from one’s home country is not considered, and banks are reluctant to offer credit cards. Yet, some landlords and utility companies require a credit history, which can only be established with a credit card. To help with this potential catch-22, the guide contains advice and options for more easily obtaining a credit card and building a credit history in So, Nobody Will Give You a Credit Card?.

Another section, which could be useful to all international postdocs, is the A Quick Guide to Visas for International Postdocs. This section describes the variety of visas that most international postdocs use for entry into the U.S. This is a highly relevant aid given the current state of flux in visa regulations. This section outlines the terminology (Do you know the difference between SEVIS and USCIS?) and has a comparison between the J-1 and H-1B visas.

Earning income in the United States means that international postdocs need to understand the regulations of the U.S. tax system. The Beginners Guide to Income Taxes for International Postdocs provides some basic information. Please note: We are not income tax attorneys or certified public accountants. Please contact the Internal Revenue Service and/or income tax professionals with your questions, for the most current information on taxation, or for assistance in preparing income tax forms.

 

Working several thousand miles from one’s home country can lead to homesickness and a feeling of being disconnected from peers. Included in the guide are links to postdoctoral organizations in other countries and to organizations for international scientists in the U.S. Other links direct one to information about career-advancing opportunities both in the U.S. and in other countries. (See Keeping in Touch With Home.) Lastly, one can read the stories of those who have already experienced life as a postdoc in the U.S. Been There, Done That! contains anecdotes and advice from seasoned veterans who have come to the U.S. to do a postdoctoral fellowship.

It is the hope of the IPC that the Survival Guide will become a useful initial resource for both prospective and current IPs in the U.S., a resource that will evolve and adapt to reflect changes that affect the IP community. The IPC welcomes comments, suggestions for improvements, and contributions to the Been There, Done That! section. Postdocs are invited to contact the International Officer.

 

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