For the PIs, what do you look for in a postdoc?
Monday, February 22, 2010
To post-doc or not to post-doc....
Two posts in one day, can you tell I am putting off looking at the monstrous data sets I ahve? Phdamned (who I absolutely love and reminds me so much of myself just a few years ago) posed a list of questions about being a post-doc and, I have to tell you, this post has been stewing in my mind since she posted it. Tonight is a good night for me to finally sit down and do this since it's a good reminder to myself as to why I am doing this all (can you also tell I am in a bit of a funk with the data and the feeling like crap). So, here goes.
Why did you decide to do a postdoc?
There is a few reasons why I decided to do a post-doc. The first is that someday I want to run my own lab. I want to be able to come up with the big ideas, to study what I find fascinating, to ask the questions that I have always wanted the answers to. In my field, there is no way to do this without having a post-doc. I want to have a lab of grad students/undergrads/scientists who I can inspire and get excited about science. I do love talking about it, about the data, about the puzzles, figuring things out and I want to share that. I also knew that the work I did in grad school was ok, there was no way on god's green earth that I would spend the rest of my life working on what I did. I wanted to go into a more biologically related field, rather than doing chemistry for the sake of doing chemistry. The only way I could do that was to find a lab that was doing the type of research I wanted to do (even only marginally related to what I did) and hoped that they saw enough potential in me to hire me on. But in all honesty, I couldn't see myself doing anything else. There was no way I was ready to run a lab or do anything along those lines without doing more/training more.
What do you think the primary purpose of a postdoc is in terms of research?
Personally, I look at it as a chance to learn as much as I can about everything I can. Ohhh, scientist A is running technique I have never seen before, can I watch? Its a time to learn how to think as an independent scientist, not as a yes-man. Its a time to make the leap from doing what your PI tells you to do to thinking like a PI. To look at doing experiments from the point of telling a story, filling the holes, rather than just getting the data out. Of course, getting as many papers out (first-author in good journals) is the most important part, but I think all of the other stuff goes along with that.
A non-research thing, but somewhat related--get your name out there. Go to conferences, present posters, introduce yourself to others after talks, schmooze a bit, talk to everyone you can. These are the poeple who are going to be reviewing your papers and eventually your grants and future collaborator's (or competitors). While your science needs to stand on its own merit, having people know who you are does help.
How did you go about contacting potential postdoc PIs?
It was about 12 months before I was "ready" to graduate when I hit the internet and started looking for possible post-doc labs. I found a bunch (about 30 in all) and started writing cover letters/CV's for each lab, highlighting how my previous experiences in grad school would fit really well into what they were doing in an unrelated field. I sent out a cover letter, CV and copy of my latest published manuscript in the mail (yes, in the mail...there is something to me about sending something like this in the mail--maybe I felt like I was putting in the extra effort? I don't know...I could be wrong). and waited. and waited. I heard back from about 15 of the PIs, most saying they weren't sure about the funding and had two solid offers. The day I was going to accept the offer in lab far away, I found out that the top PI (the one who I worked for now) had called my reference and wanted to set up an interview. Although, interview was somewhat of a loose term. I went out there, met the lab members, talked about the project he would put me on if I was to come here, and then offered me the job. I was elated! So, 30 unsolicited applications, two solid offers.
Does the name of the PI or the university have more impact on your future (or do neither since your publication record will speak for its-self)?
For me, it's both. My PI is a big name in the field, which means I get introduced to all his contacts. The university I am at is great, which I think really helped with getting the NRSA fellowship. Really, though, int he end, I think its 6 of one and half a dozen of the other. The more people your PI knows and is willing to introduce you too (which is KEY to the whole thing) and the better off his reputation is, the better off I think you are when you apply for the next job.
For the PIs, what do you look for in a postdoc?
Just need to add what the big boss man told me once. He took me on because I was willing to learn, work hard and had a great reference. Nevermind the fact that I was swtiching to a field that was completely on the opposite end of the spectrum from what I did in grad school. He saw soemone who was trained to think like a scientist and new that I could learn the basics later.