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Europeans ?

Postby Rainer » Tue Nov 02, 2004 6:57 am

Hi People,

one question: i have a Master's degree in molecular biology and (hopefully) will have a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1.5 years. A Postdoc-period of 2-3 years in the U.S. would be a nice addition on my CV, but how is the situation regarding visas for scienctists right now ? are there differences between visas for experimentalists and bioinformaticians ? and are there some good positions available regarding my career so far ?

thanks in advance
rainer
Rainer
 

Europeans ?

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Nov 03, 2004 1:03 pm

Hi Rainer,

It's very nice to hear that you are considering moving to the USA for a few years to gain some additional experience. Yes, it would be a good addition to the CV. I hope that there will be some other posters who will tell you more about the visa situation.

Bioinformatics is still seen by the USA as a field where outside experts can benefit our country a great deal. However, quite frankly the job market in the USA has been a bit "down" in the bioinformatics area, at least compared to expectations of five years ago when it looked like it would go through the roof. I lot of people went back for retraining and are now back in the job market.

Would someone else please assist with this thread, perhaps a person who has come to the USA on a visa and could offer help about this subject?

Dave Jensen, Moderator
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Europeans ?

Postby Val » Wed Nov 03, 2004 7:27 pm

It follows from the Dave's reply that he has never been in the shoes of a foreign postdoc :-) . It is believed to be easy to obtain a postdoc for foreigners in the US, because postdocs essentialy are cheap highly-qualified labour. Foreign postdocs come to the US on a J-1 visa which is a non-work visa (study visa). There are no limits to numbers of such visas issued. The US universities have offices who are charged with helping postdocs to get visas. The postdoc "stipend" is just enough to cover living expenses. US professors especially like to have foreign postdocs in their labs, because foreigners want to come to the US and are prepared to put up with the low pay and crap. Postdocs are advertised in the scientific journals, on-line job boards and on universities websites. But the surest way to get a postdoc is to approach a prof at a large international conference. The probability is close to 100% to get a postdoc in there.

I myself had gotten a postdoc offer from a prestigeous US uni. It was for less than a year (due to the specifics of funding). I compared the stipend with the cost of airfare and living expenses, and it came out that my cash flow would be negative ! And I would probably be expected to be responsible for the positive outcome of their speculative idea, for testing of which they wanted to hire a postdoc. I did not have any other employment offers for about a year, but fortunately an offer from a govt lab turned up just couple of weeks before I was due to fly to the US for the postdoc. Thanks heavens !

Regards,
Val
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Europeans ?

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Nov 03, 2004 7:44 pm

Thanks Val, for jumping in. I believe I made it clear that I needed some help, and wasn't trying to be an expert in immigration issues.

I think your "low pay and crap" comment may be overly negative, however. Most people believe that their postdoc experience in the USA is a key part of their career development,

Dave
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Europeans ?

Postby Rainer » Thu Nov 04, 2004 10:05 am

Thanks for the reactions, I was already expecting something like that. It\'s good to hear that most universities have an office for those kind of things. This would be the most important thing for me, because the salary is (in most cases) negotiable anyways......
Rainer
 

Europeans ?

Postby Val » Fri Nov 05, 2004 12:00 am

> the salary is (in most cases) negotiable anyways...

I am afraid in most cases the situation is "take it or leave it". Besides, in many cases, the postdoc's salary is coming from a postdoc fellowship or from the department's grant when the salary is set within a prescribed range. One will have an upper hand in negotiating a high postdoc salary only if the industry in the same field has a shortage of specialists and pays high salaries. An example is the computer science in the end 1990s.

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Val
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Europeans ?

Postby Frank » Fri Nov 05, 2004 5:20 pm

Having gone through this experience myself, here are what I think are some important points to consider:

1) The first step is of course finding a postdoc position. At least in the life sciences, this appears to be surprisingly easy. Besides ads in scientific journals, a good way to go is contacting the PIs of your interest directly. They may even offer to pay all or part of the expenses for you to visit the lab for an interview. This is a practice that is much more common in the U.S. than it is in Europe.

2) Regarding J-1 visas: back when I came to the U.S., five years ago, those were extremely easy to obtain. After accepting the job offer, I went to the American embassy with the documents that the university\'s International Office sent me and an hour later, I walked out with my visa. Now, it seems a little harder for most people and a lot harder for some. The whole screening process seems kind of erratic, and if you happen to run into the wrong bureaucrat, it may take a long time. I would not let that discourage you from trying, though.

3) Regarding salaries: A good salary guideline is the list of NRSA stipends from the NIH. The salary scales are publicly available, just do an internet search for \"NRSA postdoc stipend\". Most institutions will pay exactly that, but they are under no obligation to do so. While these salaries won\'t make you rich, they are sufficient to live on in most places (even big cities like Chicago, where I live). If you are lucky, you may get more, especially in institutions in NYC, Bay Area etc. and definitely in the industry. I would be very suspicious of a PI who wants to pay you less than the NIH pay scales.

4) When you come from Europe, there is something else that is very important to consider, and you may not realize it to the full extent until you get to the U.S.: medical and dental insurance, and other benefits. As you probably know, healthcare is extremely expensive in the U.S., and employers have no obligation to provide health insurance. The good institutions (including mine) give their postdocs access to the exact same benefits as their other employees (technicians etc.), including a choice of health and dental insurance plans, retirement etc. After you receive an offer, be sure to ask about this in every detail. I would not accept a postdoc if health & dental is not provided, and I would be very suspicious if they try to put you into a student or \"visiting scholar\" plan, since those are usually much worse than the plans for regular employees.

And finally, one thing I learned here is: never be afraid to ask. While, in my experience, PIs usually have to stick to the institution\'s guidelines for salaries, they may be willing and able to help you out in other ways, such as paying for travel, buying you a new computer etc.

I hope this helps.
Frank
 


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