post docs - where to start looking?

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post docs - where to start looking?

Postby Tania Hansen » Tue Jan 18, 2005 12:31 am

I am in the final year of my PhD and wish everyone would stop asking me what I am going to do next. I want to do a post-doc. Where? I dont know. What I do know is that I want to stay in my current field (apoptosis and cancer), which is quite broad, so that doesn't really narrow it down a lot. I am prepared to work hard, but don't want science to rule my life. I want to go somewhere where I can work independently but still have support. I wouldn't mind being exposed to some teaching and supervision of students.
Basically I think I am not sure if I will be able to 'cut it' in one of the big labs, but don't really know any other names in the field to start asking. My current supervisor is not very supportive and doesnt have a huge reputation either so I dont think I can rely on him for much help.
Any suggestions of even how to start looking would be much appreciated.
Tania Hansen

post docs - where to start looking?

Postby Ellen » Tue Jan 18, 2005 7:17 am

Dear Tania,
I know that starting to look for a post-doc is a daunting experience and I have been offered many lines of advice in my own searches. One of the best things to help, you have already done - found this web site. There are many tips and advice on networking etc and quite a lot of help on what to look for in terms of benefits and support (and I have no affiliations here - I posted my first message yesterday!). I wish I had taken some of the advice myself rather than jumping in to the first so called good opportunity I found.

Anyway, I have been told that many postdocs are not advertised (certainly in my field - plant evolution) and the best way to find positions is to ask around, go to conferences and check out who is getting grants and may need to hire people. Contacting people directly and asking if they would be interested in seeing your CV is a nicer way of approaching strangers than just sending them your CV cold (the number of CV's I was sent as a PhD student was unbelievable!). I also joined internet lists which are an invaluable source of adverts for jobs and for information on who is doing what (how I got my current post). I also recieved a lot of help from my undergraduate lecturers, who have alway tended to be more encouraging that my PhD supervisors. I don't know what its like in your field but from personal experience I would suggest asking lots of questions and finding out a lot about the institution when you have the opportunity, after all an interview is not just about your suitability for the position but also about how suitable your prospective employers will be for your life, career development and future mental well being. It goes both ways.

It seems from your post that you are quite clear in many ways about what you want to do and what you don't want to do, which is an excellent starting point. One thing I did (which didn't work - but could be worth trying) was to pick my personal favourite piece of research and contact the author asking if they had any positions available. They didn't, but I set up a personal communication which has been extremely rewarding in other ways (reprints, conference notices etc and maybe future grant applications).

I have limited experience in these areas and am learning all the time, so I hope there are others with advice that maybe more relevant to your field. Wishing you the best of luck with it all.

post docs - where to start looking?

Postby Paul » Tue Jan 18, 2005 11:24 am

Hi Tania,

Having spent 5 years as a post-doc and another as an "instructor" I have seen just how different post-doc experiences can be.

I think a lot of your decision about post-doc positions has to relate to your desired career. If you want to ultimately become a successful, independent, academic researcher then the "big labs" are usually the best way to go. You just have to pick carefully! Not all big labs have 20 post-docs, all working on similar projects until one gets a Science paper and the rest all disappear. I work with a division that has a very big lab where the 30 people are split into four smaller project teams and each have fairly distinct projects. The PI makes them all work hard though! Perhaps the route that I ended up on might work for you. I work for a small PI within a strong department. At times I have been the only person working in the lab and, while taxing to stay on top of everything, I have been exposed to much more than most of the people working in the "big lab". Budgets. Politics. Lab management. Grant writing. All skills that I have been required to learn that I don't think I would have got in a bigger lab. The downside comes for me now...looking for a faculty position. My mentor isn't as well connected or as influential in the field. Thats why I am asking the "big lab" PI to help me out!

In regards to finding a position, I have seen two schools of thought. Mine was "what do I want to work on? Who is the big names in that field? Where are they?". I ended up in Boston (10 degrees today). My best friend went the other school: "Where do I want to live? Who works there? What do they work on?". He ended up in Miami!

Given that you seem to know your area of interest, look up the big names in that field (check out Faculty of 1000 for help). These are probably your "big lab" people but will probably run departments with smaller PI's at the associate or assistant professor level. These might be the type of people who would be good for you since they will have a smaller lab and need you to be more creative and independent (and successful!). Just be careful to network as much as possible with the "big lab" names because, ultimately, it helps amazingly if you have these names as references or speaking on your behalf.

Hope this helps,


post docs - where to start looking?

Postby Ken » Tue Jan 18, 2005 3:15 pm

I second the notion that you should target a lab whether or not they are advertising a position. Contact the head of that lab and offer your services. You'll be surprised how many will want you. Think of it this way, you have tons of education and experience, and yet, are willing to work for a postdoc salary; you will be in high demand considering how much you will be paid.

I sent my CV to about 10 different academic labs and was interviewed at 9 and was offered positions at most. I say this not to brag, as I don't think I'm terribly special, but to point out that you shouldn't set your sights low, and don't accept the first position that comes along because you feel you have no other choices.

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post docs - where to start looking?

Postby Alfred » Wed Jan 19, 2005 11:06 am

I have to agree with Paul. My strategy was to first determine what fields I was interested in doing post-doctoral work and then go through the literature and talk to other scientists to identify the labs doing research I was interested in (at locations to which I would be willing to move). I simply emailed the principal investigator with the CV and a targeted cover letter/email extremely tailored to the specific research being performed in that lab.

It worked suprisingly well, with interviews nearly everywhere I applied. Interstingly, the lab in which I ended up was from the attempt I thought had the least chance of success.


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