postdoc

You have your PhD, now what?

Recently, I have been asked by a number of my younger (in terms of degree, not necessarily age) friends and colleagues about how to find a postdoc, what to look for, and what questions to ask.  As I am currently in my third postdoc, I feel I am somewhat an expert on how to find a mentor and what makes for a good postdoc experience, and I am honored that people think enough of me and my career to ask.  So, the following are some tips based on my experiences…

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Before you do anything else, decide if a postdoc is really for you.  Sure, a postdoc seems like the next logical step.  Maybe your current PI is not supportive of a career outside academia or you have dreamed your entire life of running your own lab.  Whatever your circumstances are, make sure that your heart is in it.  The current world economic status does not make life easy for an academic scientist.  Grants are hard to come by.  Faculty positions are elusive.  There are plenty of hurdles that you have to jump over.  It is possible to be a successful academic, but if you aren’t committed, maybe you should think about an alternative career.  There are several options…medical science liaison, entrepreneur, policy, scientific writer, clinical research associate, industry, patent lawyer (with a law degree)…many of which pay more than being an academic researcher and have better hours.

 A new program designed by Science Careers called My Individual Development Plan is a great resource for scientists looking to pursue alternative career paths.   You can learn more about it here.

Start looking early! 

It is never too early to start making connections, thinking about how you would like your research career to evolve, and what you are willing to sacrifice (location?) to get what you really want (the ideal mentor?  a specific research project?).  This is especially important if you will be moving to a different country (you will need time to apply for the correct visas and other documents).  I suggest coming up with a short list of people you would like to work for or the type of research you would like to pursue (be as specific as possible) about a year in advance, if possible.  Start asking your current PI, your committee members, and other connections if they know the person or anyone at the university.  Get on LinkedIn and see if you know anyone that could make an introduction.  Make a point to introduce yourself at a conference and talk to their current and past students and postdocs.  These are the people that will give you an honest interpretation of the laboratory environment that you’re looking to enter.  Or better yet, visit RateMyPI.com to see if they have been reviewed or to search for PIs with good reviews at specific universities or by location.  The more information you have the better. 

Apply for your own funding.

If you have an idea for the research that you would like to do, apply for your own funding (most grants/awards have border restrictions, so be sure to check).  There are several avenues to obtain funding, not just federal.  Think outside the box.  You are much more appealing to PIs if your salary and/or research is already covered.  This might be the only way to work for your ideal PI since funding a post doctoral research takes a large chunk of funding from already tight budgets. 

Get everything in writing.

You are about to graduate or have recently received your degree.  You have a postdoc lined up.  Things are great!  Hopefully everything goes as planned, but be prepared for some bumps.  Before completely committing to a postdoc (or any position, for that matter) get a signed (by you and the PI and even another authority at the university if possible/appropriate) offer letter detailing anything and everything.  It should include your salary/year, the hours/week you are expected to work, the project you will be working on, the length of the commitment, the amount of paid vacation and sick days, where your funding will come from, and anything else you think might be important.  It should detail what is expected of you and what is expected of your supervisor.  This is not only for your benefit (you don’t want to pack up and move to another country only to realize that your new supervisor does not have the funds to support you…and I speak from experience on this one), but also for your new PIs benefit (the standards that you will be held to are spelled out).  I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

Think ahead.

I personally think that experiencing a postdoc in another country is a wonderful idea.  It puts you outside your comfort zone, you get to look at your research from another point of view, you can start making worldwide collaborations, and you get a chance to travel and grow both personally and professionally.  However, if you decide to do this, the day you start your new position, is the day you should be thinking about your next.  Will this postdoc only last a year or two and then you will do another one?  Maybe you plan on staying there longer and then go straight into a faculty/professor/research position?  Whatever the case, know what will be expected of you to make the next transition.  Did you know that it can be harder to obtain funding from your country of citizenship if you do not currently reside/work there, even if you are planning on returning?  Even if you have a great research plan, you may need to be associated with a university in that country before you can get funded.  This could mean doing another postdoc before you get funded so that you can have a strong application for that faculty position.

There you have it.  That is my first round advice for researchers that will graduate soon or have recently received their PhD.  Please help others by leaving your comments and let me know if there are some other questions you want answered.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is RateMyPI.com

Since the launch of RateMyPI.com, we have had many inquiries as to the purpose of this website.  RateMyPI.com was founded to provide research investigators a comprehensive database to develop their profession through informative choices of career opportunities, collaborations, research materials, and community discussions.   We at RateMyPI.com feel the mentor – mentee relationship is vital to the advancement of scientific discovery.  Therefore, we are in the process of developing a comprehensive database of researchers across scientific disciplines in academia, biotech, industry, and government.  But, this can only be possible with the help of scientists like you visiting and creating profiles on RateMyPI.com. 

We have attempted to make the site as user friendly as possible.  The first time you visit RateMyPI.com you’ll need to determine if your name already exists in our database.  Click “Search Scientist” and enter your name.  If your name is available in the drop down menu, you can claim this profile by selecting your name then viewing your profile.  There you will find an option to claim that profile and create a user account.  If your name is not currently in our database, create a membership account by clicking the “Join” button on the upper right corner.  Membership is free and requires that you to enter a username, password, and email address.  Once you sign up, you’ll be directed to your member profile.  Here you can upload a photo, add pertinent contact and professional information, and provide links to your social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles.  You can highlight your field of study and career status, so like-minded scientists can connect with you.  The associations tab is used for listing current and former employers, similar to a brief resume.  Every scientist is proud of their publications, therefore, we’ve created a section specifically for these achievements.  By entering the publication title and the PubMed ID a link is provided on your public profile to direct other scientists to your publications on PubMed.  At the bottom of the member profile page, you can upload your CV and resume that can be downloaded from your public profile.  This is a great way for future employers to have access to all pertinent career information in one easy to download file.

After the required information (name, address, and email address) in your profile is completed, you can begin reviewing other researchers.  Click on the “Reviews” tab at the top of the page and type the name of a researcher.  Once you begin typing, names will auto populate based on member profiles or previously reviewed researchers.  If the scientist is already in the database, you can select their name from the drop down menu.  If neither a profile nor a review is entered in the database you can easily add their name by clicking on the “add new name” link underneath the “name of person being reviewed” field.  In order to add a new name to the database, you will need to know their name, city, state / province (if it applies) and country.  Once you have selected a scientist to review, you will be able to rate that scientist on a several different areas including funding, mentoring ability and recommendation for future employment.   A comments box is available for additional information that other researchers might find pertinent.  All reviews are anonymous to encourage honest feedback.  We’d like to think of it as a unique peer review process.

Since RateMyPI.com was developed with the idea of helping researchers with career development, we’ve added two features on the rotating banner of the homepage.  Each month, RateMyPI.com will highlight a different series of young investigators in our “Featured Scientist” category.  By clicking on this banner, you’ll be immediately directed to their member profile.  The featured scientist might be an individual who recently published a ground breaking paper or someone whose research is related to a trending scientific topic.  Either way, we feel this will be instrumental for networking and promoting the career development of young investigators. 

In keeping with the theme of career development, we also highlight the “Top Rated Scientists” on the homepage.  This is a great feature for scientists looking for potential collaborators or for future employment opportunities.  Similar to the Featured Scientist, this banner will be directed to the Top Rated Scientist profile and reviews. 

As RateMyPI.com grows, we plan on implementing additional website functionality.  A community discussion board will provide a forum where researchers can gather advice on experimental design, techniques or products for advancing their scientific endeavours.  Since the theme of RateMyPI.com is career development, we also want to implement a Job Board.  Here you will find career opportunities targeted specifically for scientists looking for postdoctoral, tenure track, or alternative career positions.  Finally, a long-term goal of RateMyPI.com is to provide yearly travel awards to young investigators (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers) to use towards attending conferences.  Conference attendance is vital for promoting your research, networking and developing future research. 

Since RateMyPI.com was launched just last week, we’re still in BETA mode and we welcome any comments or suggestions.  Feel free to email us at Info@RateMyPI.com

I hope this brief tutorial gives you a better understanding of how RateMyPI.com can help you with your career goals.  When you get a chance, check us out and create a member profile and let others know how colleagues, collaborators, and PI’s have been instrumental in your career development.   Remember, RateMyPI.com is not just for rating principle investigators.  Ask your professional colleagues, lab members and PI to comment on your scientific capabilities as well.  It might just be instrumental in landing your next big opportunity.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

“My” Individual Development Plan

There has been a lot of excitement about myIDP (Individual Development Plan) offered by Science CareersIn case you haven’t heard about this, myIDP is an interactive web-based career-planning tool developed to help graduate students and PhD level scientists determine potential career paths beyond the traditional tenure track scientist.  By answering a series of introspective questions regarding your scientific skills, interests and personal values, myIDP will match these to potential career opportunities and help you develop a career plan to reach your goals. 

I’ve read a lot of promising comments about this program, so I decided to take the time and create a career plan for myself.  While I have been working in product development for almost 1 year already (I’m stating this in the interest of full disclosure), I thought it might be interesting to see if I chose the best career for myself.   Who knows?   It’s never too late to mix things up.    

When you first go to myIDP you’re asked to create a new account with all the basic information including a username, email address and password.  Once an account has been created, you’re greeted with a flow chart explaining the steps to creating your individual development plan. 

The first step is a self-assessment designed to identify skills, interests and personal values.  Honest, introspection is required to answer these questions since the responses are used to help identify relevant career paths.  Each category contains several subcategories with a series of questions.  Questions are answered on a simple 1-5 rating scale.  Once you have completed each subcategory, responses are summarized into a table.  This table helps you to easily identify skills that need improvement and interests important to a future career. 

Once the self-assessment is complete, you are transitioned to the career exploration tab.  myIDP compares the answers to your self assessment to characteristics important to roughly 60 different career paths.  These careers are then ranked from best to worse fit based on how well they match your skills and interests self assessment.  Clicking on a specific career path, you are provided with numerous articles, books and even professional societies to join that will help you to learn more about each career.  An event planner lets you keep track of meetings or other gatherings for networking.  There is even a guide on how to conduct an informational interview with an industry expert that can help you better determine the pros and cons of a particular career path.

With a long term career goal (or two) selected, you have the option to create career, skills and project goals.  This feature helps you to set and achieve small steps to reaching your career goals.  These are turned into a 12 month planner to keep you on track.  Consider it your yearly committee meeting with yourself.

Finally, you can create your mentor team to provide you with personal and professional guidance.  Ideally, your PI should be involved in this process (I’ll touch on that later), but you should also try to have mentors from different backgrounds to provide unique perspectives.  This is essential for obtaining invaluable personal and career advice that will be essential to you meeting your goals. 

Overall thoughts?  This is an extremely intuitive and highly beneficial program that I strongly suggest for all graduate students and postdocs.   Of course, the earlier into your PhD career that you start this program, the more time you will have to develop a network that can help guide your career path.  It would be great if your PI was involved in every step of this process, and myIDP strongly suggests you include your PI in this career development training.  Unfortunately, some PI’s are more open to their students pursuing alternative career paths than others.  I’ve met plenty (and have worked for) PI’s that feel the only true path for a PhD is in academia and they will do little to nothing to help you advance outside of academia.  If this is the case, you will need to be more proactive and find a network of individuals willing to support you in alternative career goals. 

So, how did the myIDP match to my current product development career path?  Well it ranks fourth on the list.  Interestingly, the intellectual property career path (patent agent / attorney and technology transfer specialist) ranked just above product development.  That’s something I never considered as a career and know very little about this path.  But with the myIDP informational resources, I know where to learn about this career.  My number 1 and 2:  sales and marketing (medical liaisons or sales representatives) and science policy (public/government affairs or think tanks).  While I did consider some potential opportunities in sales and marketing, I really didn’t want to be on the road for extended periods of time away from my family.   Surprisingly though, entrepreneur was ranked rather low on my chart…don’t tell my RateMyPI.com co-founder.  

Speaking of RateMyPI.com, look for us to go live in a matter of days.  We’re just finishing some BETA testing.  Hopefully we can be instrumental in helping you meet your career goals as well.

P.S.  Happy National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

“Required” International Collaboration?

I recently read an article in Sky Magazine about the Executive MBA that highlighted how more and more EMBA programs are requiring international experiences during their programs. Some required only a week abroad for a 12 month program, while others incorporated various international stays for 5 out of 17 months. Other programs that have mainly foreign students, their time in the US constituted their international experience. Reading about these EMBA programs got me thinking…is there a place for similar training during scientific grad school and would it be beneficial? Could we somehow incorporate a semester or even a year of research abroad?

I think that this would have the greatest chance of success during the third or fourth year when you have a sound understanding of your thesis and what experiments are needed to support your hypothesis. By your fourth year you should be fairly independent, but could also benefit greatly from learning a new technique to address your central hypothesis and have input from someone with a different background (both scientific and nationality). As a senior grad student you would have the communication and experimental design skills necessary to plan out experiments in advance so you could hit the ground running in your new laboratory. Having the opportunity to do research abroad during grad school would also help you network and prepare for the next stage of your career while supporting international scientific collaboration.

In a way, some people already do this by going to grad school in another country. Still others have taken opportunities to obtain grant funding that pays for you to visit another lab to learn a new technique, such as the Michael Smith Foreign Supplement Award from NSERC offered to Canadian graduate students who have CIHR, SSHRC, or NSERC funding. There are also programs, such as the NIH OxCam program where you can obtain your degree through NIH that will send you to another lab to learn a new technique, or obtaining a grant from the International Research Fellowship Program (currently not offered) that funds postdoctoral studies abroad. I personally know several people who have obtained these funds and no one was disappointed with their experience, so why not incorporate it into the PhD program?

Do you think that training in a foreign country should be required for the PhD? Please share your experiences?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Page 1 of 3123