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Your opinion/advice (post-doc)

PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2005 1:33 pm
by TS
Hi all,

I have been reading this forum quite often. This is my impression from the many posts. In order to get a job in industry (biotech), You have to do a short post-doc (2-3yrs)and show that you are productive (publish many papers).

I am trying to be in that situation and I just finished my first year post-doc. But I am worried that the project that I am working on is not going very well (not the PI or my fault, we both put our effort into it). The results I have now and if I get more data, I can publish it in low-impact journal. When I first started my postdoc, I was working on a risky project and I discussed it with my PI and he said my concerns are right and I switched on a different project. There are several different projects (going very very well)in the lab, but already given to other grad students and post-docs.

I am worried about the future and my question is whether I should leave the lab and start a new project in a new lab or should I stick with the current project and hope for the best. I am also concerned that if I leave now in the middle of the project, I know the PI won't be happy and I am worried about the recommendation letter. If I leave now, how can I explain this situation for future job application (including the next post-doc position). How is this viewed in industry.I appreciate your honest opinion.

PS: I moved coast to coast to work on the current project, hoping to get many papers as I can. I would like also to move back eventually. From my PhD, I published two papers (first author)in average journals.

Your opinion/advice (post-doc)

PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2005 4:06 pm
by Dave Jensen

I'll let others comment on your postdoc and whether you should stick it out or change labs. My gut feeling is that you need to stick it out, and get the best work you can out of the situation before you leave. Your recommendations are important.

However, just to clarify. Yes, industry hiring managers usually look for a postdoc, and good publications. But they are not hung-up on this, and often will hire people who have only an average education/postdoc and average publications. In those cases, the person hired has the right attitude, solid communication skills and good self-promotion ability during the interview process. Don't mistake this to mean that they are "artificial" in some way . . . that's not the case. It's just that some people are better than others at networking, developing good interview skills, etc -- and in those cases, you don't need to have stellar publications. Just good people skills!


Your opinion/advice (post-doc)

PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 2:05 pm
by John Fetzer
I agree with Dave in that good people and communications skills will greatly help. The attitude in industry is often not can you work now on my exact project, but do you have the science skills to do so after a short familiarization period? Part of this is how enthusiastic you seem, how well you might work with others in a project, and other non-science skills.

If you show that you are able to do your best on a risky project, learn to use that as a selling point. Businesses do not work only on safe projects. Their research is risky and requires creativity and scientific talent to make it have the best chance. You are doing what most industrial scientist do, so emphasize that in your cover letters, interviews, networking, and so on.


Your opinion/advice (post-doc)

PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 4:09 pm
by Paul
Hi TS,

I'll comment on other side of your question than Dave and John.

Is it any wonder that your mentor might give you a bad recommendation if you leave after one year of post-doc? View things from their side of the fence: They employ you to do a project that, more than likely, they came up with. They listened to your concerns and allowed you to change direction. Now, one year later, when things aren't showing promise, you want to leave? Its not demonstrating much in the way of perseverance, ingenuity or loyalty, is it?

Post-docs do not carry guarantees, unfortunately. The luck of the projects happen but, in my opinion, there is a large burden of responsibility that has to be placed on the back of the post-doc themselves. You have already obtained a PhD and so have proven that you can do perform good quality research. As a post-doc, its your time to step up. If you feel your project isn't going in the right direction, take it somewhere else. I routinely tried "side-experiments" during my post-doc to test new ideas. Often with these, I never mentioned it to my PI...I just did it. If something worked out, I'd mention it then. If there are good projects going on within the lab, it sounds as though your mentor is working within an interesting field. Obviously without knowing your project or field its difficult to know how possible this is, but perhaps you can sideline into the area of one of these projects? Collaborating is always a good way to get a new outlook on a project that feels lost.

I'd say that expecting published work within one year of post-doc work is being hard on yourself. We are in the business of testing ideas and asking questions...often a slow process to reaching the evidence for the truth. There is a major difference between someone who hasn't produced within one year and someone who is three years out though and employers know this.

My advice would be to relax, ask GOOD questions, don't afraid to change your direction and work hard for a couple of years before you have to worry about this stuff.

Best of luck,


Your opinion/advice (post-doc)

PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2005 7:05 pm
by Emil Chuck
I don't know your project or your area, but I would suggest as much as you can to stay on for two or three years (as you noted). As for your project, talk to as many people as you can about your difficulties. One aspect of your education should be the ability to troubleshoot and to find other ways to get to the answer you want.

Work collegially and treat others as teammates and colleagues. You'll have to do that if you go into industry as well. Perhaps you could think of how your project could be pitched to be attractive to industry because you're going to have to answer that question in your interview.