Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thirteen points to bear inmind when choosing a postdoc

Although I have enjoyed my time in science, I feel I have made a few career mistakes here and there that lead me to where I am today (no maternity leave, no employment insurance, unemployed). Well, there is no point in crying over spilt milk. I think I have learnt something from my mistakes. Here is a list of things one should bear in mind when choosing a postdoc. I wish I figured it out earlier but sometime one has to leave and learn.
  1. Have a clear idea of what you want from a postdoctoral experience. Do you want it to be a good spring board to an academic position? Or a position in industry? Do you want/ need lots of papers coming out?
  2. Communicate these expectations clearly to the postdoc supervisor you maybe interested working for and assess if you can achieve your goals in your lab. If the answer is no, turn down the offer and move on.
  3. Be aware of the working environment that best suits you. Do you like a friendly lab, or do you prefer a competitive bitchy environment? Do you like a MICROMANAGER supervisor or one that LEAVES YOU ALONE to develop your project? These 2 points are REALLY important as work environment and supervisor will shape the outcome of your postdoc! At different stages in your career you may prefer one versus the other.
  5. Do you want a project you can "take with you" when you leave? If so be upfront and ask the supervisor if he/she will let you do that.
  6. Pick a project wisely: if you want a lot of papers out of the postdoc you may need to chose a project that may be less interesting but that has a high chance of success. If you want to compete for academic positions, then paper numbers is of paramount importance.
  7. Discuss your contract in every detail: will you be able to pay into employment insurance? Will they pay you maternity leave? How about vacation time? What if your child is sick? Can you take time off? How about going to doctors appointments, do you need to work up extra time in the lab before you can go to your doctor's appointment.
  8. If you think they pay is too low, try to bargain. Ask if there is a way they can top up your salary.
  9. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK. Networking is very important because this is how you will make yourself known and how you will hear of jobs that become available. You want people to be able to put a face to a name. Working 14 hours in a lab 7 days a week is NOT ENOUGH. You need to be VISIBLE.
  10. As a follow up to point 9 ask if you will be sent to conferences. Ask the supervisor, ask people who are working for him/her how many conferences a year they attend.As a postdoc you MUST attend scientific meetings to create contacts.
  11. Try to find out how well connected is your potential supervisor to other people in science and industry.
  12. Cultivate other skills such as COMMUNICATION SKILLS, interpersonal skills, teaching skills and the like.
  13. Have a PLAN B if the postdoc/ academic career does not work. Remember there are few tenure track positions available, many competitors and the process is highly political.
The above points are all I can think today. If you read this and can think of other points to add to the list, please do let me know.

Happy postdocing everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Great list Anna. I wish someone had told me these things before I signed last few years of my youth away. I would also add to your list the following points:

    1) If you are sure you wish to be on the academic track ask your supervisor if you can supervise graduate and summer students. This will not only help you boost the number of papers you get, but will also help you learn what kind of supervisor you will be.

    2) Avoid becoming the lab technician. It is hard if you are naturally inclined to help and be organized, but it is a huge trap. This will take up way too much of your time and it does not get you any more papers and in fact it can eat up most of your valuable research time and in the end you have nothing to show for it.