A Conversation About Finding a Postdoc Position

Oct 12 2009 Published by under Ask DrugMonkey, Careerism, Mentoring

Comrade PhysioProf:

Why is he having so much trouble securing a good post-doc position? In my field, newly-minted PhDs from US universities have their pick of good post-docs.

DrugMonkey:

he's being location and topic fussy. i don't know that he's actually been turned down that much


Comrade PhysioProf:

That's fucking stupid.

DrugMonkey:

it is life dude. the significant other can't move or some shit.
i would'a been better off career wise, probably, had I not made certain decisions influenced by the career status of she who is now my wife too. but maybe not either.
life is what it is...
also, not everyone always has money. two people I know had to use the $$ excuse with him. one PI had just larded up with trainees, the other is indeed waiting on cash too

Comrade PhysioProf:

Yeah, not everyone has money. But fucktons of people do have money. In a market where [humorous overestimation] of the post-docs in the United States got their PhDs at [foreign institutions of indeterminate quality], he should be able to get a good post-doc.
Maybe life intervenes but there is something called short-term-pain-for-long-term-gain.

DrugMonkey:

like I said, he's topic fussy.
he should be working with [freshly minted asst prof] if you ask me but....

Comrade PhysioProf:

Topic fussiness is fucking stupid. Where these fuckwits like [disgruntled postdoc blogger X] get the idea that there is only "THE ONE THING" that they could possibly ever be interested in is delusional and pathetic and beyond me.

DrugMonkey:

I was there. Hell, I still AM there to some extent.
Agreed it is a weakness of many training environments. probably of entire subfields.

Comrade PhysioProf:

My scientific success owes a *huge* amount to the diversity of fields and subfields I have worked in.
And when I select people to work in my lab, I apply a filter that ensures that I mostly get people who are willing to move around intellectually. The filter is that I refuse to give prospective trainees a list of "potential projects" and let them "pick one" that they will work on if they join my lab. I tell them what we work on, what approaches we use, and explain that when trainees join my lab, they start playing around in the context of other people's existing projects and gradually develop their own ideas.
Many very bright--but shortsighted--candidates really dislike this uncertainty and take positions elsewhere, but the ones who do join my lab end up exhibiting a lot more intellectual flexibility.

DrugMonkey:

like I said, I agree that it is a weakness. It is, however, a common weakness.
I am unclear on whether it is inevitable for certain domains, i.e., the behavioral ones. these are not things where you can just put in the time and learn a new bench assay in a day or even 3 mo.
My first thesis proposal involved two different human subjects pathologies and a couple of difficult animal models. It wasn't totally wacked, I knew people doing the human experiments. but I was told to pick 1/4 of what I proposed and it was good advice.
there is also the question of resources and just how different the work / equip / etc is in what you consider to be a diversity of fields. you can do a shit load of gene and expression related shit from yeast to cells to inverts ...all the way to humans, hell, throw in plants too, with the same fucking bench lab. not so much if you want to know something about either individual or god forbid ecological or social behavior....

Comrade PhysioProf:

Dude, in my lab we do classical genetics, behavior, functional imaging, biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, next-generation sequencing, and probably some other shit I am not thinking of right now. It's not just a matter of doing the same shit in a different experimental context or model system.

DrugMonkey:

i'm sure you are totally awesome.
there is also the question of fundamental curiosity and starting point. if you want to know how certain aspects of transcription works or how certain gene families work, the downstream tends to broaden rapidly. especially if it is some essential shit. my wife was interested in essentially two [basic biological targets] and the first ko ended up with phenotypes in everyfucking system. blood, heart, tcell, brain, limbs, kidney... off to the motherfucking multiple assay/subfield races.
You start with a question about substance use or schizophrenia or Alzheimer's and you are working backward. sure, you can say you are getting to "mechanism" but you get farther and farther away from anything that you can define as your key interest in a big fucking hurry. and you can lose confidence in relevance fast. I know you are all basic and shit but not everyone is motivated the same way.
but back to the trainee- the question is, how many of your fresh-from-grad postdocs at this dude's stage have these skills already....

Comrade PhysioProf:

At most, they usually have one of those skills.

DrugMonkey:

right. like this guy has couple of skills. he just needs vision.

Comrade PhysioProf:

If he has the potential to develop vision, then the only way he is going to do so is to join a lab outside his comfort zone. If he only considers labs "Seeking Post-Doctoral Associate With Experience In [Specific Technique]", that ain't gonna happen.

DrugMonkey:

agreed. I'm just saying it is very common. and it propagates upward. job seekers might be thinking "oh, it's a cell bio dept and I'm a someotherfuckingologist" and avoid applying. grant RFAs ditto.
and let's be honest, with some merit. there will be people who won't look at this guy because he didn't train in genetics-R-us lab. some people who would be appropriate for position X will be screened because their fucking PhD is in Psychology instead of Pharmacology. etc. but.....
as you know, the ones that take the flyer and say, 'what the hell, I'm making my damn case for why they need me anyway' do best. I just don't know how to communicate that efficiently to someone like this and apparently the whole fucking commentosphere is frustrated trying to communicate that to [disgruntled postdoc bloggers X, Y and Z]!

Comrade PhysioProf:

Maybe we should redact this e-mail exchange and post it on the motherfucking blog!

DrugMonkey:

Ha! Just what I was thinking..

56 responses so far

  • rz german says:

    Superb discussion. But... on the hiring end ... my money comes for a specific project. NIH is less tolerant of "here are the techniques, hang out & develop your own project" however much better that might be for a) the postdoc b) the science c) me.

  • PhysioProf is a wise, wise dude.

  • Katharine says:

    This... is actually quite helpful.
    I know what I want to study. I know where I want to go.
    At the same time, the opportunity to do research in a lab that has somewhat different but somewhat related aims for the sake of broadening my research exposure can't be anything but beneficial. It'll perhaps help give me even more insight with which to solve a problem.

  • whimple says:

    My free advice to fresh post-doctoral candidates:
    Your #1 most important criterion for picking a PI post-doctoral advisor by far should be: "Does this PI play an active role in helping his/her trainees get jobs?" Active means more than just writing the obligatory stellar letter of recommendation, because everyone already gets those. Will the PI pick up the phone and call people? Will the PI use their contacts to help the trainee? In short, is the PI sufficiently vested in the long-term well being of their trainees to be willing to go out of their way to help?
    You might be surprised just how many PIs, particularly big-name PIs, really just don't particularly care what happens to their trainees. The usual model for this is that there will be one or two golden-children in the lab for whom the PI will move mountains to get them established, settled and off to an excellent start, while the other 15 post-docs in the lab are allowed to slave for the PI until they quit. If they get something, that's great. If not, also fine. You don't want to be 3 years into your postdoc and find that you're in the "other 15 post-docs" pile.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PhysioProf is a wise, wise dude.
    Yes he is. But he is also limited in view by his own particular path, much as with any scientist.
    So it would be wrong for trainees and junior folk to take away an absolutist message that they are screwed if they do not practice GlamourLab science. All of the infamous '9 types of PI' approaches can (and demonstrably do) work. For better or for worse.
    The question is how to take your core career training at present and kick it up that extra notch to outcompete whatever your subfield and generational competition is doing.

  • leigh says:

    i sought out new/complementary/additive skills, but stayed within my broader area of interest. i have to be motivated by the subject or i won't go anywhere with it, and neither will my career.
    my very first interviewer turned me down in the end because i did not have all of the skills that were performed in the lab. i thought that was contrary to the point, at least from my perspective. let's just say that didn't happen anywhere else i interviewed.

  • MGS says:

    I'm just starting in my PhD program, but I've been thinking about types of post-docs I may want to go for. It seems like strategy would vary a lot by field. I'm in a very interdisciplinary young field, and each of the departments are rather isolated from each other. As a result, I was thinking that my best bet for post-doc training would be to foster ties with the other isolated labs in my field and then post-doc in a few of them, so that I could go beyond the mentality of my own grad department and help tie the field together. If that's what I do, then I'll end up being topic-specific in my post-doc search. I am interested to see other strategies, too.

  • Maria says:

    This whole situation is super frustrating for me, a young PI with plenty of funding who CAN NOT get postdoc applicants. We are not on either of the coasts and I am not famous. But there is plenty of exciting work to be done and the money to do it--just no postdocs who are interested.

  • whimple says:

    No domestic post-docs you mean...

  • Maria says:

    Actually, I mean no postdocs who can follow the instructions for application.

  • DSKS says:

    "My very first interviewer turned me down in the end because i did not have all of the skills that were performed in the lab."
    That might be indicative of a trend, imho. In response to the idea a that freshly-minted grads are having trouble getting postdocs in this climate, I wonder if a key reason isn't the trickledown factor of the postdoc-to-faculty bottleneck. There's an international pool of experienced senior postdocs to choose from, and the salary cap in place for postdocs removes an important incentive to hire genuine wet-behind-the-ears "trainees"; they simply aren't that much cheaper than the veterans that can come straight into a lab and start generating data as soon as they've unpacked their suitcase. In the current climate of PI's at all levels struggling to retain R01 funding, I can imagine that the drive for productivity may be causing the obligation to train new scientists to fall by the wayside.

  • David says:

    Considering that few of the people who take on postdoc positions continue with academic tracks, and many end up in industry, it's probably wise to get people started early on with the idea of being flexible. In an industry job, you work on what you're told to work on, and you develop the skills that you're told you need. Only the CEO has complete freedom, and she's rarely actually doing hands-on work.
    I hire people for their skills. Experience helps to develop some skills, but one key skill is adaptability.

  • msphd says:

    As usual, you guys sound really out of touch. And you're making assumptions about "disgruntled postdoc bloggers" who generally have NOT written about our actual choices or training or topics in order to maintain our anonymity. And PhysioProf is, as usual, completely wrong in those assumptions.
    Here's what I can tell from being a postdoc in recent years and from watching current students look for postdoc positions.
    1. You might pick something you think you want to learn because you think it is something you'll want to use in your own lab someday, but you can't teach yourself from a protocol so you have to go learn it in person.
    It is most likely something you could not have learned during grad school because it is still new, or is limited because only a few people know how do it in the world, or both.
    This sometimes means a new model system that can't be done in any lab anywhere. This often means the labs you want cannot hire you because they are small, or popular (no money, no space) or will not hire you because they are so popular they can have their pick of people who can hit the ground running, instead of having to waste time teaching you the basics (you don't have any prior experience with their system).
    So then you are back to the drawing board, looking around to see if there is some more welcoming model system that you can leverage to ask interesting questions, although they might be different questions than you originally wanted to ask.
    2. You don't know where to start. There are a lot of labs and you haven't met very many PIs outside of your graduate school. Your own advisor is a #$%! so you're not going to ask him; or you ask him and he never gets back to you. Your committee members are equally out of touch and will steer you toward people who are scientifically respected but who also turn out to be #$%^!s. Thanks a lot, guys.
    3. What whimple(#4) is telling postdocs to look for is exactly right, but it is extremely difficult to find this out ahead of time, from a distance.
    And someone who is a good mentor and role model for Blond Guy X might sexually harass me just because I'm a girl. Even if they knew, nobody would have told me that before I joined the lab, because they're a bunch of spineless #$%^!s.
    So in conclusion, yeah, it's great that you're talking shit about this poor postdoc kid who is hesitating because he wants his wife to have a career too. That's really supportive and enlightened of you. Maybe you should wake up and realize that in the last 5 years alone, the job market is a completely different place than it was before, and you're just way way out of touch with what it's like to be in a graduate student's shoes right now.

  • leigh says:

    i'll agree with msphd on the two-body issue. it is not easy, particularly when the second body is not in science and the economy is total shit. i fear that my spouse may be totally fucked over career-wise in this location, despite our best efforts to find somewhere that would be good for his career and mine. and yes, that did limit my own choices somewhat.
    short of remaining unattached until some sort of career permanence emerges, there's no easy way around the two-body issue. particularly in the current economic climate.

  • Dr Becca says:

    @msphd "2. You don't know where to start. There are a lot of labs and you haven't met very many PIs outside of your graduate school."
    If you're at the point in your PhD where you're looking for a post-doc and haven't met many PIs outside of your graduate school, you're doing it wrong. This is what conferences are for! You should be networking every chance you get, not just with PIs but with post-docs who work with the PIs you might be interested in, and get their perspective on life in that lab.
    Whimple's advice may seem idealistic, but PIs who care about the future of their trainees do exist. You just need to do a little homework before signing on.

  • yolio says:

    I used to think that being geographically narrow was a poor career choice, but I have come around to being pretty geographically narrow at this stage in my career. My seriousness about science has nothing to do with it. There is just too much cost associated with picking up stakes and starting over (and over, and over). The direct costs may be mostly personal, but they do tend to spill over and impact my professional effectiveness.
    If your only goal in all the world is to be the highest ranked academic you can, then you need to move your ass to wherever you need to and flex yourself into working on system X that random PI happens to have money for. But this is kind of a recipe for depression. Leaving behind your entire support structure every 1-3 years for a post-doc in a lab that may or may not shape up to be a personal hell is simply not a very attractive life choice.
    And, gender and minority status are definitely factors here. Every time you enter a new social environment, there is a chance that you won't get along particularly happily with your new colleagues. This chance is a lot larger when you are a woman and/or minority because on the whole the institutional culture is not designed for you.

  • Dave B. says:

    My advice for those PhD's looking for a postdoc:
    1) If you're in a hot field, stay in that field, regardless of the impulse to move on and "broaden your skill set". Everyone I know who remained in specific, hot fields after their PhD's (RNAi, stem cells, etc.) had good faculty jobs waiting for them less than 3 yrs after starting their postdocs.
    2) If you're not in a hot field, get into one. The top tier journals publish based on trends. You will have difficulty finding an academic job without publishing in a top tier journal. Follow the trends, then do what you want after you get the job.
    3) Never go to a lab with less money than your current PhD lab, unless you go to a newly established lab by a well-regarded junior PI. Regarding the latter point; these PI's got the job based on a particular, do-able project. If you get onto that project, you will get a paper or two, likely in a decent journal.
    To sum up, the idea of "broadening" your skills make sense theoretically, but it is not practical. You'll be subject to a steep learning curve and will likely not publish in your first year or two. Growing your scientific mind and finding a job are the two reasons people do postdocs, but they are mutually exclusive exercises, in my experience.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Related thoughts from PhysioProf on positioning yourself for a tenure-track professorial appointment.
    http://physioprof.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/positioning-oneself-to-become-a-tenure-track-pi-in-the-biomedical-sciences/

  • TreeFish says:

    Send him to TreeFish! I am setting up my new digs, including newly renovated space. The best part is waiting for all of my stuff. It's Christmas every day!
    Even better is when a super important central piece of equipment doesn't arrive! I have all the small things that plug into this/these equipment, but I don't have the damn mama device. My favorite part is when I call the company to check on the status of the order, and they have no record of me or my institution ordering any mama devices. That is some serious fun!
    So, send your newly minted PhD's to TreeFish.
    As far as broadening versus focusing: I did both. I trained on a technique I was familiar with, but the new/trainer lab was the best at it. This allowed me to learn all of the meta-methods. Then, I started collaborating with a serious science dude/dudette, and expanded my horizons beyond anything a mope like me could have envisioned.
    If the big question interests you, and the breadth of the techniques allows you to address a small part of the big question (relatively) unequivocally, sign on and spit-shine your a$$-kicking boots!
    One lucky thing: I was SEVERELY geographically limited. So, I made some Isis Grilled Steak salad and PhysioProf Prosciutto and cheese-stuffed pork chops, got totally wasted on motherfuckin' Jameson, and prayed to the porcelain God that everything would work out. It did (so far).

  • Pinus says:

    I am also a new PI trying to hire post-docs. So far nearly all of the applicants have been people who have at least 5 years of post-doc experience and want to move to where I am. I am not biting on those. Maybe a mistake, but I don't think so.

  • becca says:

    So... where's the post for new PIs on how to position themselves to 1) find good people and 2) launch them into excellent careers?
    Because if the world made sense and everyone read DM, to do anything about 1) you'll need to know 2).

  • This was a strange post.
    1) In my field, newly-minted PhDs from US universities have their pick of good post-docs.
    I'm guessing you did your postdoc during the era of NIH budget doubling. During the current era, this is no longer true. You may have funds for talented US postdocs, but a lot of very good PIs out there just don't, due to the 10% payline.
    You note this but then say, Oh, there are still lots of people with money. Which brings us to:
    2)the significant other can't move or some shit.
    I can assure you that the two-body problem is nontrivial. Nice to get it dismissed as "some shit." Given your own history, DM, I think you'd be more sympathetic.
    3) like I said, he's topic fussy....
    Topic fussiness is fucking stupid.

    Really??? One gets invited for faculty interviews/jobs based mostly on one's postdoc(s). My advisor has told me repeatedly that a postdoc is not just a place to "park" oneself for a few years. Also, some of us have a long-term vision that might include (a) a particular research direction, and/or (b) high-level publications. (Don't tell me those are solely dependent on the quality of the postdoc him/herself.)
    To sum up: There is tremendous pressure to make a good postdoc decision. This guy is tied down geographically. Lots of PIs are out of cash. And you're deriding him for caring about what he studies?
    It has been nightmarish coordinating Dr Hyde's and my careers, and the addition of a significant extracurricular activity has made it even harder (e.g., can't do long commutes; require PIs with family-friendly attitudes; etc.) I think we've figured it out, but it was tremendously time-consuming and stressful.
    But I guess that puts me in the disgruntled postdoc blogger column. Thanks for the tea and sympathy.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I can assure you that the two-body problem is nontrivial. Nice to get it dismissed as "some shit." Given your own history, DM, I think you'd be more sympathetic.
    I can assure you that I do not trivialize or dismiss the two-body problem. This post, as you will realize, is a bit of a departure for my usual and unsurprisingly is slightly more colloquial. slightly. In this particular case you may substitute "thing" or "stuff" for the term you find to be pejorative. You may also consider that even in an email exchange such as this one prior to redaction, we may choose not specify details to which the other person may not be privy. I know a little more about the reasons for geographical stickiness but it wasn't relevant.
    My advisor has told me repeatedly that a postdoc is not just a place to "park" oneself for a few years.
    I think you are slightly confusing the point. We are not suggesting one should take any-old opportunity ill considered. Rather that having an overly rigid view of the technical or scientific domains that will "fit" may be limiting the person's ability to select the ideal post-doc that will enhance the later job-hunt and independent success in science.
    Pinus- I am unclear on why you are reluctant to get an experienced person. There are pluses and minuses, just as with every other situation...

  • Anonymous says:

    having an overly rigid view of the technical or scientific domains that will "fit"
    If the guy has as you say already been turned down for $$ reasons by two PIs in one town, he doesn't necessarily sound overly rigid to be complaining about the difficulty of finding a third that interests him.

  • bill says:

    There is tremendous pressure to make a good postdoc decision. This guy is tied down geographically. Lots of PIs are out of cash. And you're deriding him for caring about what he studies?
    Yeah, that, pretty much. Fuck you both*. And no reacharound*.
    I am out of academia for now, thank $deity, but you two bigshots clearly have No Fucking Idea what the current landscape looks like from a postdoc point of view.
    I don't get you two. You're both savvy enough to know and even occasionally brave enough to admit that most of your success, like most of any PI's, is down to dumb luck. Yeah, you're smart and you worked hard, but no smarter or harder working than the forty or fifty or so others who didn't make it (and that's at a 20% success rate... how long has it been since it was anywhere near that?).
    But then you act as though everyone else struggling in the same system that has floated you two frothy turds* to the top of the cistern should just get their fucking acts together, as though having a hard time in a shitty career in an even shittier economy were some kind of character flaw.
    *these are, of course, expressions of affection.

  • I started my postdoc search not quite 2 yrs ago--so the economy had not gone to complete shit, but it was turning. Plus I switched fields completely. I did not look for official postings. I sent letters to labs I was interested in. Physical letters. The kind that you print out on nice paper, sign with ink, and drop in one of those blue postal boxes. This can set you apart (especially, I think, for more senior PIs) and get you the first look you need. My now-postdoc adviser commented during my interview that he was surprised to receive a physical letter and that it was nice to get it in the age where everyone emails a CV. I used email as a follow-up a few weeks after mailing the package. I also took time to craft a cover letter--specific to each lab--that was not a regurgitation of my CV; I explained why I was interested in their lab and why I thought I would be a good fit. The letter got me the interview (I'm certain), which got me the job.That being said, I was not very geo-limited by my spouse, and I did not have to contend with family-friendliness. Plus it takes some people a little time to find something that fits.
    In response to a couple of comments here:

    2. You don't know where to start. - msphd

    There's a good chance you're going to have to talk to complete strangers. I expected no help from my grad adviser. In fact, when I first told him the field I planned to pursue in my postdoc, his response was, "Oh... I don't know anyone in that field." So I sought out a faculty member--not on my committee, that I had never really interacted with, but was working in an area between my grad work and my desired postdoc work--to discuss possibilities. Eventually my grad adviser did point me to a colleague at another institution (again in between my grad and postdoc work), who ended up providing an list of 10 or more potential labs and was honest enough to tell me which of his colleagues I probably wouldn't want to work for on the basis of personality. Yes, some PIs are out of touch and full of hot air, but this doesn't mean you should turn a deaf ear to everything any tenured prof has to say.

    3. What whimple(#4) is telling postdocs to look for is exactly right, but it is extremely difficult to find this out ahead of time, from a distance.

    msphd has a point that it can be difficult to figure out. You have to be proactive. What do people outside the lab have to say? What does the PI's track record (i.e. where his/her people go after postdoc) say? You also have to listen during the interview process. Generally you have a chance to talk to current trainees in the PI's absence. In my grad lab, we were pretty honest about our PI's hands-off approach--after all, we were disgruntled students and postdocs. But a couple of postdocs came in and, after a few months time, were completely shocked by the lack of direct interaction, despite what they were told by multiple people. Don't assume that disgruntled trainees are blowing things out of proportion.

    If you're not in a hot field, get into one. The top tier journals
    publish based on trends. You will have difficulty finding an academic
    job without publishing in a top tier journal. Follow the trends, then
    do what you want after you get the job.
    - Dave B

    Yes, the mint on my PhD is still pretty fresh, but I take issue with this piece of advice. It can difficult to predict the trends of the next five years. Besides, if you jump into a hot field solely for its 'hotness', you'll be directly competing with a lot of people--for publications, funding, and jobs. My goal was to find a lab that was doing good science that I found interesting.

  • californiaphysioprof says:

    Try this to identify good postdoc labs. First, think hard about a class of problems you want to study and techniques you want to learn. Second, ask 4-5 faculty members you know and respect to suggest 4-5 names of people working on that problem/using those those techniques. You will be amazed that there will be 1-2 names that show up on more than one person's list. Third, go back to your list-makers and ask them *why* those 1-2 potential postdoc advisors are on their list. If you like the answers (good mentoring, cutting edge techniques, has $$$ in surplus, is at a kickass place, etc), contact those PIs. Be agressive in working to get an answer from them.

  • Physiogroupie IV says:

    You guys still communicate by email?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    You guys still communicate by email?
    Undoubtedly another sign of how out of touch we are...

  • pinus says:

    DM,
    It is not really about not wanting somebody with experience...it is about seeing somebody who has been a postdoc for 5-10 years in a field nearly completely unrelated to mine and has only published one kind of 'blah' paper. I am fine with people wanting to switch areas, but I can't afford to staff my lab with relatively expensive super post-docs that don't publish. I would rather take a little bit of time and build up, bring people in and train them if I have to. Believe me, if I saw a person that fell in to the realm of 'career scientist' and was competent, I would hire them. So far...nothing like that has come along.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Pinus @#31:
    Ahh. Good call. I tend to agree that if you are bringing someone in with 4-5+ years of experience you are looking for a person that can hit the ground with instant production. From generating data to publishing papers and helping you out on the grant writing to boot. If you can get that, it could be a wise investment.
    Someone who costs you 2X starting postdoc salary and operates like a starting postdoc, well that is just wasting cash.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Seriously? A postdoc for over 5 years and only *one* publication? How is that even possible? Not even a list of middle authorships?

  • bikemonkey says:

    ask 4-5 faculty members you know and respect to suggest 4-5 names of people working on that problem/using those those techniques. You will be amazed that there will be 1-2 names that show up on more than one person's list.
    Sounds like a recipe for perpetuating the GoodOlBoyz club to me. Also, asking people you know does not break out of the little limited-view circle that CPP and DM are discussing here.
    To get outside of the box, you have to reach outside of the box for a hand. Even if departments are diverse in research topic, they can be very narrow in other considerations (e.g., on the '9 types of PI' spectrum, acceptable Universities for employment, etc)

  • Again with the hating on non-US postdocs, eh?

  • antipodean says:

    [foreign institutions of indeterminate quality]...
    My current institution seems to do quite well in all of the relevant ranking lists. Better than all but a handful of USA universities.

  • This entire DM-PP conversation falls into the category of "easier said than done".
    You're pretty harsh on the guy- it's entirely possible that he values his personal relationships over his career; and it's also entirely probable, as someone who's just finishing up his degree, that he does lack "vision". Who the fuck has brilliant academic career-planning vision when they're coming out of grad school? Few students are lucky enough to have a fucking genius mentor (I guess like you two) who can tell you exactly where to go to get the most bang for your buck.

  • Anonymous says:

    It's easy to blame postdocs for being 'topic fussy'. But consider this. First: Many PIs also don't want to take risks and thus will only hire postdocs who have already done close to the exact same thing that the PI's project calls for. Many PIs do not want to hire postdocs that have to learn a field or even a new sub-field, they want postdocs to straight away start producing top notch results without any getting up to speed time. Second: "career advice" is often given to postdocs to be 'focused' in their work, which translates to - don't jump around from one topic to another, build your worth by becoming the undisputed world expert in obscure sub-sub-sub-sub-field, which you do by staying close to what you've been doing since grad school and going ever deeper and narrower into one direction rather than branching out and expanding your horizons. heck, all the PIs I was told to look up to, fit into this model. Not that I accept that model, but it was the model I was advised to follow.

  • Rob says:

    Someone posted :"Besides, if you jump into a hot field solely for its 'hotness', you'll be directly competing with a lot of people--for publications, funding, and jobs."
    I agree, and to add further - if you jump into a hot field solely for its hotness but it's not a field that you are already in to start with, you will also be competing with people who have been in that field all along and are thus way ahead of the curve compared to you. So, what are your chances of being able to become competitive in said hot field?

  • It's easy to blame postdocs for being 'topic fussy'.

    No one's "blaming" anyone for anyfuckingthing. Who gives a flying fuck about that nonsense? The point is to provide people with information that can be used to improve one's opportunities to secure things that one wants.

  • Anonymous says:

    No one's "blaming" anyone for anyfuckingthing. Who gives a flying fuck about that nonsense?
    apparently you do

  • May says:

    Cath @35; antipodean @36:
    The hating on the non-US degrees is one of the more irritating (and arrogant) aspects of these conversations. Apparently those of us educated and trained outside of Uncle Sam suck goat balls. Although since the last time I questioned this attitude I was told to consider Canada as the 51st state, maybe there's hope for some of us...

  • It's easy to blame postdocs for being 'topic fussy'. But consider this. First: Many PIs also don't want to take risks and thus will only hire postdocs who have already done close to the exact same thing that the PI's project calls for.

    "Many" is a gross overgeneralization. I think this depends in part on where the PI is in her career and how well funded the PI is. You'll never know what's available though if you don't put yourself out there and start talking to people. A postdoc/grad school spot/post-postdoc job isn't going to fall into your lap.

  • msphd says:

    Becca wrote: If you're at the point in your PhD where you're looking for a post-doc and haven't met many PIs outside of your graduate school, you're doing it wrong. This is what conferences are for!
    Newsflash, Becca. Not all labs are so flush with money that they can send all their grad students to meetings. Most grad students can't afford to attend meetings on their own dime.

  • msphd says:

    Having read through the rest of the comments (whew!) I have a couple other things to add that I held back on originally.
    1. The idea that American-trained graduates are highly valued seems to be hogwash, so far as I can tell. Where I work, PIs prefer foreign postdocs because they can manipulate them using fear by threatening not to renew their visas. American postdocs tend to be more demanding and difficult to control. PIs hate that.
    Also, from what I can tell, foreign-born grad students who got their PhD in a Famous American lab will still do better than American-born grad students who did their thesis work in a non-famous American lab.
    2. bikemonkey is exactly right about perpetuating the club. The problem with asking people is that you're going to get a very biased sample. Someone suggested asking several- well that's a start, but chances are good that unless you specifically ask for certain qualities (say for example, if you're looking for women PIs) the list will always be the same 4-5 white guys (unless you want to work on telomeres, hahaha!)
    3. I read PhysioProf's article about how to become tenure track, and found it extremely biased.
    There are still plenty of interesting things to do, and you don't have to work on an organ to be doing useful, novel biology. Sure, there is some low-hanging fruit there, and maybe there are more jobs for people who can say they work on a body part than those whose work is more generally relevant.
    But uh, it's not like everything else is finished and answered. Let's not forget that.

  • Pinus says:

    I think that what people fail to realize, time and time again, is that there is no uniform culture in science. I know labs that mostly hire foreign post-docs...other that mostly hire americans...I also know labs that send their students to at least two meetings a year, and others that tell them to pay their own way if they want to go.

  • I read PhysioProf's article about how to become tenure track, and found it extremely biased.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As usual, MsPhD exhibits typical delusional trainee short-sightedness.
    The key to securing and establishing an independent scientific career in today's academic job market is figuring out where the action is going to be five years from now, not today. Whatever schtick got your mentor a job ain't gonna get *you* a job.

  • DSKS says:

    "PIs prefer foreign postdocs because they can manipulate them using fear by threatening not to renew their visas."
    That's an absurd an unproductive comment.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Newsflash, Becca. Not all labs are so flush with money that they can send all their grad students to meetings. Most grad students can't afford to attend meetings on their own dime.
    This is true, but it's not an excuse for graduate students in their 3rd or 4th year never to have been to a conference. Many, if not most, conferences offer travel awards for grad students. More importantly, PIs have a responsibility as mentors to send their trainees to at least A meeting during the time that they're under their wing. Part of your success as a scientist depends on your ability to communicate with and learn from other researchers. If your PI doesn't give you the opportunity to do this, they're not only depriving you of an important experience, but denying themselves whatever useful information you may have brought back to the lab.
    I admittedly am not a PI, and I've been very lucky through grad school and my post-doc to be able to afford to go to conferences, either because my PIs were well-funded, or through my own outside funding. I recently did the budget on my first "real" grant application, though, and there was a slot for travel. Isn't this for sending people to conferences?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Isn't this for sending people to conferences?
    Sure. But you put too many people on one grant and it starts raising eyebrows-at what, $1-2000 or so per person-meeting, this adds up.
    And keep in mind that some of the routine cuts-at-funding that come down from NIHland can easily account for any travel budget and then some. So decisions have to be made on the part of the PI...

  • antipodean says:

    MsPhD "Where I work, PIs prefer foreign postdocs because they can manipulate them using fear by threatening not to renew their visas. American postdocs tend to be more demanding and difficult to control. PIs hate that."
    Maybe US-based PI's like overseas trained postdocs because they get on with the fucking job and don't spend the entire time whinging in a passive-agressive funk?
    We're not a bunch of coolie labourers simply hired as near slaves. Accept the possibility they we might actually be better.

  • biochem belle says:

    On the networking/conferencing point:
    - At least some departments/grad schools provide a travel stipend for students presenting at conferences. Some offer additional compensation if you participate in recruiting sessions (usu. larger conferences). It may not cover everything, but it helps, and some PIs may be more willing to cough up the rest.
    - Conferences aren't the only places to meet big name guys; sometimes the big shots come to you for seminars, and often they have lunch/dinner with students. Make friends with the admin(s) in charge of organizing things, and it's pretty easy to get in on lunch when you want. Also, if your department has a student-organized seminar, volunteer for the committee. It's more work, but you get a say in who comes and are guaranteed to meet the speaker.

  • biochem belle says:

    Regarding the whole foreign/US postdoc hiring preference (how did we get started on this anyway?), there are a couple of factors that I haven't seen mentioned (though I may have overlooked them).
    On the side of hiring foreign-born postdocs: As of 2006, NSF reported that 1/3 of science doctoral students at American universities were foreign born. For engineering, over half the doctoral students are foreign-born.
    A strike against foreign postdocs: They are not eligible for institutional (T32) or individual training grants from NIH. I imagine that a lab strapped for cash, depending on T32s to fund at least some of their postdocs, would favor US citizens.
    You should also consider that the ratio of foreign-born to US-born postdocs in any given lab may have less to do with PI preference and more to do with the applicant pool. I think most people, when they're making a decision that will change everything in their day-to-day lives, gravitate toward a group with some cultural similarity.

  • You've inspired me to write more about the prejudice against non-US postdocs here. Nothing (too) personal, this is one of those posts that's been brewing for months.

  • ZZ says:

    Slightly off-topic: where are these PI's that hire less experienced post-docs? Earlier this year, I was fresh out of grad-school, and wanted to diversify my research in that I wanted to stay more or less within my broad field of study, but do more 'applicable' or 'translational' research. Apparently, the most important thing I learned in grad school - the ability to do independent research and TROUBLESHOOT that research independently - together with my solid technical background, was not enough.
    In a related thought, while many scientists complain about the conventionality of academia, few 'young' scientists take the initiative to begin breaking the stereotypes associated with academia (many mentioned in this thread). If I ever become one, I might take some risks in hiring post-docs based on their overall intelligence, as opposed to what they look like on paper.

  • I would much rather enlist a post-doc fresh out of grad school than one with more experience.

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