Job search tips for postdoctoral positions

Exploring the postdoc path

Get ready to start your postdoc search

  • Consider what qualities you seek in research groups and postdoctoral mentors. 
  • Plan a timeline. Expect to reach out to potential academic postdoc mentors months before your dissertation defense. Positions are filled early and may not be immediately available, so plan ahead.
  • Get your name out there by networking. Attend and speak at conferences!

Prepare application materials

  • Sample application materials can be found here. Do not copy the wording in these documents. Doing so is considered plagiarism.
  • You will submit: a curriculum vitae (CV), cover letter, names of references and possibly letters of reference.
  • Before submitting your application materials, inform your references that they may be contacted. Provide a short list of characteristics you would like them to convey to potential employers.
  • Ask friends/colleagues/mentors to review your application materials. Ensure the content is clearly conveyed, tone is appropriate, formatting clean, and grammar immaculate.

Find open positions

Many PIs will not post positions, because they are filled months before the position even opens up. This is particularly true for PIs who are senior or have large research groups. Therefore, you should reach out to PIs of interest by email directly. Ways you might identify potential academic postdoctoral mentors:  

  • Based on papers you have read, seminar speakers who have visited UMMS, scientists you have met at conferences.
  • Discuss with your current mentors the field you want to be in, the qualities you seek, and any geographic constraints. They may be able to suggest research groups to consider.
  • Consider asking your mentor to email or call to help you get interviews.

If you do want to look for postings (especially for more junior research groups), these are good places to look:

  • The PI's website (though this may not be kept up-to-date)
  • Major scientific journals such as Science and Nature
  • Specialty journals or scientific society newsletters in your field
  • University/College websites (search for "human resources")

Interviewing

Phone or Skype interview

Interviewer’s goal: Select top candidates for in-person interviews via a short conversation to confirm your perceived strengths and ability to communicate professionally

  • Schedule a quiet space with a landline or wired ethernet connection if possible. The GSBS conference room can be reserved by contacting the cBCD.
  • Put a note on the door, “Interview in progress. Please do not interrupt.”
  • At the time of the interview, have your resume, the job description and a pen and paper ready for taking notes, and water.
  • Be clear when you have finished talking by ending each of your responses with a definitive statement. On a phone call this is especially important because you are missing visual cues.
  •  Expect to talk with the PI and possibly other lab members.  
  • You will probably be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. Prepare 3 to 5 questions about potential research projects, funding sources (will you need to apply for a fellowship before you arrive?), and career trajectories of previous trainees.
  • Prepare for a Skype interview. This format is becoming more popular as a first step.
  • Be confident and professional. Stand or sit in a power pose.

What to do when you are invited

  • At the time of the invitation, express enthusiasm and ask clarifying questions about what to expect on the interview day.
  • Be prepared to ask for an itinerary for the visit, including information about your research talk (length, resources, audience etc) and who you will be meeting with.
  • Think about your needs. You may ask to be accommodated for food allergies or medical needs. Consider asking for small breaks between your talks and meetings.
  • Thank the PI or contact person and express enthusiasm for the interview. 

What to bring

  • Wear comfortable and professional clothing and shoes that you feel comfortable in.
  • Bring mints, floss, a water bottle, small snacks that aren’t messy, and travel-sized stain remover.
  • For the job talk – your slides on a USB drive, laser pointer and slide advancer. Get comfortable using your own for the talks.

One-on-one interviews

Interviewer’s goal: Determine your potential to become an independent scientist, genuine scientific interest, and whether you will be a good fit in the lab

  • Prepare questions you may ask to the PI and members of the lab, not only about research, but also about how the lab handles publications, management, and career transitions.
  • Expect an informal meeting that will be 30-45 minutes per person. Be engaging, because each person may give feedback to the PI.
  • Jot down notes about each discussion during your breaks or at the end of the day. The notes will help when writing thank you notes.

Follow-up after the interview

  • Reflect on your experience. Will the lab fit you personally and professionally?
  • If you have follow-up questions, reach out to a member in the lab with whom you connected during the interview. Consider asking to be connected with lab alumni.
  • Write a thank you e-mail to the PI within a day or two. Express appreciation for the opportunity to come visit the lab, and also comment on something interesting that you learned from your conversation.

Local resources

  • Discuss your decision making process around doing a postdoc, receive feedback on your application materials or discuss interview strategies for your postdoc search with cBCD staff
  • Read materials in the Career Options, Leadership Skills, and Job Search Skills sections of the cBCD Special Collection in the Lamar Soutter Library.

 

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