Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

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Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Cameron Veil » Wed Jan 12, 2005 5:43 pm

I'm going to graduate in about 4 months so I need to start applying soon. I know what interests me but as for which labs should be my first choices I am having trouble with.

Do I apply to the big lab with 10 papers a year and 40+ people or to a lab of 5 people with 2-3 good papers per year? I want to be somewhere where others will give input into my projects and I can actually spend time with and learn from my supervisor and labmates. My Ph.D. was basically done with almost no supervision or guidance - that has made me independent - but shouldn't I get something from a supervisor rather than just giving?

So how can I find what I'm looking for? I will mostly likely be applying to people I have no connection to as I'm shifting field a bit.

This may be an unanswerable questions but I thought I'd post it anyways.

Cameron Veil

Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Kevin Rogers » Wed Jan 12, 2005 6:05 pm

Thats a tough one to answer - I have known of research groups with 3 members where the people work independently and with 20 people where they see their supervisor frequently. The only way to find out the management style of a Prof is to talk to his present and former students and postdocs.

Having said that though a postdoc should be pretty independent - it a a chance for you to prove to the world what a good scientist you are. However not all PI's are willing to work in such a way.....

I guess u have to decide what is most important to you.

See the posts by Madison in this thread for more

Kevin Rogers
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Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Teresa » Thu Jan 13, 2005 10:45 am

When I was a graduate student our department gave us very open access to prospective faculty on campus for their job interviews with the instructions to ask them about their job search, post-doc, etc... The best advice I received from one of them was that in choosing a post-doc decide if you want to be a 'big fish in a little pond' or a 'small fish in a big pond'. A big lab will likely be more competitive but their will be numerous opportunities to collaborate with others (although many times with little or no input from the PI) whereas in a smaller lab there may be less competition and more one-on-one interaction with a few people on a daily basis. If you lean towards one or the other it might help to focus your choices. A friend of mine recently started a post-doc in a large lab and his interaction with the PI is only when the guy calls late at night to make sure he is still working!

Obviously this is oversimplified and the only way to know for a given lab is to talk to people they seem enthusiastic or do they respond with politically correct answers? Is there a place where you have interests in several labs so if you get there and really hate the lab you are in you can potentially have other options?
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Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Emil Chuck » Thu Jan 13, 2005 11:11 am

Read for another's view of pursuing a postdoc.

Your lab environment is important as would your ability to work in a team environment (it sounds like to me). Personally, you can go to the small lab as long as you have obvious opportunities and encouragement to collaborate with others in your department or institution.

If you are transitioning from one area to another (I'd like to describe that as enriching and expanding your knowledge to a multidisciplinary application) then make sure that you have at least a skeletal idea of what project you want to pursue and why integrating with the field you want some coverage in would advance the fields with which you are familiar and are working in now.

Basically there are no specific answers. But you need to know yourself, how you work, how you like to be supervised/mentored, and where you want to be three years after your postdoc.
Emil Chuck
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Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Ken » Thu Jan 13, 2005 11:42 am

My advice would be to make sure you have the opportunity to talk to the people in the lab individually without the boss around. That is when you will get the most important information about what day to day operations will be like.
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Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Madison » Thu Jan 13, 2005 3:22 pm

You should think about why you're going to do a postdoc, and where you want to go afterwards.

Do you want to go to industry? Then pick a medium to big lab that has lots of industry connections. ie: many patents, gets money from industry to conduct translational research, the PI does lots of consulting. Use the lab to build your network. Use the PI's network to your advantage. Get patents yourself.

Do you want to be faculty and run a good to great research lab? If so, postdoc at a TOP school in the lab of a science superstar - full professor. You will get NO mentoring; the lab will be big; you might compete with the other postdocs in your lab. You will need to be independent. But this type of environment can provide you with the oportunity to really shine, and the PI's name will help get your good work into a top journal.

Do you really want mentoring? Go to the lab of an assistant professor. It will be a small group, and you will get lots of direction and imput from your PI. You will have trouble developing a project here that you can take with you, since the PI is just getting started. You could possible do this for 2 years, and then go to a "hot" lab for another 2 years, and still have a great shot at a high-powered research career.

Do you want to teach? Go to an associate professor's lab, where they are still a bit new, but established enough to give you some independence. You could use this space to get teaching experience.

Finding the right Post-doc. How do I do it?

Postby Emil Chuck » Thu Jan 13, 2005 7:17 pm

You should also read (from National Postdoc Association website):
Emil Chuck
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Postby Cameron Veil » Tue Jan 25, 2005 6:15 pm

Thanks to everyone for their comments and suggestions. I have decided to just apply at the biggest labs with the best publication record. I'm also making sure that I'm actually excited about the work they do.

My goal is to become a Prof. so I think big, famous PI's are the way to go.

Wish me luck!
Cameron Veil


Postby Madison » Tue Jan 25, 2005 7:13 pm

Good luck! If you wish to apply to the "big guns", my suggestion is you start your search my looking at the HHMI profs ( These people are all high profile, and usually tops in their respective fields.

I also recommend that for any lab you consider going to, check out the status of their funding in the CRISP database ( This will let you know how many grants each PI has, what kind, and most important - when they expire. You want to make sure there is funding for you; it's best to avoid nasty suprises a few years later. Keep in mind that HHMI funding isn't in this database.

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