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Graduate Student Resource for Choosing a Postdoc
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Why do a postdoc?

Many doctoral recipients do a postdoc by default or as a delay tactic to figuring out what to do next in their career. The training you need will not automatically fall into your lap…you need to be proactive! However, potential postdocs should invest some time and thought into the questions of: Do I need to do a postdoc?

  • Do you want to pursue a career as an independent investigator? Yes

How to decide?

Choosing the Right Postdoc

Creating your own niche as a postdoc:  How do you develop independence while working for someone else?

  • Create your own research niche/obtain a postdoc in a lab with research interests and skill sets outside your current lab to allow you to learn new skills and develop your own expertise or organize an external collaboration that teaches you new skills and allows you to publish outside your current research group. You want to gain skills that are required for your particular career goal (teaching experience, writing/grantsmanship skills, public speaking, job hunting, lab management training, mentoring)
  • Develop an independent identity outside of your research group/get involved in wider department, university or professional association groups so that people know you independently from your supervisor or research group. Take all opportunities to increase your visibility (attend conferences, meet with visiting scientists, interact with other grad students/postdocs/faculty, develop relationships with PIS other than your advisor). Seek multiple mentors that can help you hone your personal identity without relying exclusively upon the mentorship of your PI.
  • Hone the skills needed for independent research, for example: develop a research program that meets deadlines and produces results, designing projects for and supervising students, managing administrative duties, grant writing. How do you gain these skills?
    • Ask your supervisor to involve you in these aspects of the lab: selection of new lab members (student and postdocs), student supervision from project design to manuscript preparation, administrative duties within the lab (such as purchasing, budget, and grant administration)
    • Talk to senior researchers about how they design and manage research programs
    • Ask to get involved with reviewing papers or grants on selection committees
    • Become familiar with administrative requirements in your area of research
    • Take any available classes on mentoring offered at your university
    • NPA Core Competencies
    • Write grants to obtain independent funding (postdoctoral fellowships and transition awards)

How to Apply for a Postdoc

What to send in your application/letter

  • Who you are
  • Lab you did your graduate work in
  • How you know the person (if you have previously met at a conference or through a networking contact)
  • When you will/did finish your doctorate degree
  • Brief description of your work to date (graduate student, first postdoc)
  • Highlight major publications
  • Why you are interested in the lab (Be specific!! Show that you have researched the lab and the type of work they do)
  • What you can bring to the lab (Again, be specific! Suggest projects you might be able to contribute to, skills you have that could be of use to the lab, etc.)
  • Attach CV and PDF’s of (major) publications (Writing an Effective Academic CV)

Postdoc Interview

  • What to expect?
    • Talk about your graduate research (job talk-generally an hour with the PI’s lab as well as other labs in the department)
    • Meet with potential postdoc advisor
    • Meet with other faculty in the department/university
    • Meet with graduate students and postdocs currently in the lab
    • Tour the university, local area and lab
  • Preparing for the interview
    • Practice, practice, practice giving your job talk (Job Talk Tips)
    • Become familiar with current and past work/papers from the lab you are interviewing at--look at Pubmed or lab’s website
    • Think about the type of project you want to work on, what you can bring to the lab, and your expectations from your postdoc
    • Think of questions to ask the PI and lab members
    • Dress to impress! This is a job interview and business attire is expected
  • Questions to ask at the interview:
    • For the PI: How will we decide what project I work on? Will I be able to take my research project with me to start my own lab? Will I interact with my PI directly or will they be more hands off? How is the research funding atmosphere for the lab? Will my position be dependent on my finding my own research support?
    • For the lab: How big is the lab? What is the environment like in the lab (collaborative, independent)? What have postdocs from the lab gone on to do? How long do postdocs generally stay in the lab? What is the publishing atmosphere like? Is all the equipment and personnel I would need for the kind of work I want to do currently available in the lab?
    • For the Institution: What are the benefits like for postdocs? What is the environment like for postdocs (postdoc office/association, professional development opportunities, training opportunities, teaching opportunities)? What is life like at the city/university?
  • Follow up after the interview with a thank you e-mail (within 24 hours of the interview)
    • Thank the PI for their time. Remember, often they have paid to have you come out to their lab, so even if you aren’t interested in the position, a thank you letter is appropriate. Never burn a bridge with a potential employer or collaborator.
    • Tips for Writing a Good Thank You E-mail