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How to return to your home country after a postdoc in the United States
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Babyattachmode

 

Spending time abroad as a postdoctoral scholar is widely considered to be a beneficial to an academic career– at least it is seen that way in Europe. At the same time, it can provide useful experience when transitioning to a career outside academia. Labs in the United States are generally seen as the most desired destinations for a foreign postdoc position. However, when you want a job in your home country afterwards, being abroad may seem like a disadvantage because it is harder to maintain your network and you may feel overlooked for an available position compared to somebody who stayed nearby. You may feel like you’re stuck abroad.

 

I felt that moving abroad for a postdoc and then back was a great experience on several fronts, but the amount of planning and money to relocate should not be underestimated.

 

I moved to the United States together with my husband shortly after we received our doctorate degrees. We found labs in the same city on the East Coast and started our postdoc positions not knowing for sure whether we wanted to stay in the United States or move back to Europe. But a few years, a few publications, and two babies later, we did decide that we wanted to move back. I made sure to stay connected and keep in touch with my home country network by regularly visiting with scientists whenever visiting my home country and catching up with them at international meetings. This turned out to be extremely useful when identifying opportunities that would allow me to return.

 

Tips:

Staying in academia:

 

Find funding that supports moving to another country:

Transitioning to industry:

  • Start doing informational interviews preferably a year ahead of time to get a good idea of what you want and what options might be opening up.
  • Get feedback on your resume or CV from people in the country you want to go to as styles vary by country.

I was not entirely successful at heeding my own advice. At the time I wanted to move home, I was dedicated to pursuing a career in academia, but I failed to obtain any of the grants that would support a move back to my home country. My husband was awarded one of those grants, which allowed us to move, although the relocation fee offered by the university barely covered one plane ticket for a family of four. Upon returning to my home country, I accepted a postdoc position, even though in the United States I held a non-tenure track faculty position for the previous year. But, I had conducted a very early morning informational interview while in the United States – early morning due to the time difference of half a day – and this paid off in the end when I secured the industry position that I have now.

 

Scientist searches globe with magnifying glass.

Searching for a postdoc outside the United States. Illustration by Alexandra Taraboletti.

A colleague who interviewed around the same time for another job had planned it a bit better. She found an industry job while in the United States, where she had done a postdoc, and the company covered most of her moving costs. But it can be really tricky to get the timing right, especially when you also need to plan around family obligations such as the birth of a child or a partner’s job. On the other end of the spectrum of successful planning of a move, I have seen people move back without a job offer by using their savings to bridge the uncertain period until they found employment.

 

Altogether, I felt that moving abroad for a postdoc and then back was a great experience on several fronts, but the amount of planning and money to relocate should not be underestimated.

 

Babyattachmode is the pseudonym of a neuroscience PhD turned industry scientist. You can find her on Twitter @babyattachmode, or read her blog at Scientopia.

 

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