Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finding a postdoctoral position

I know it has been quite some time since I last wrote- that is how busy things have been for me. Within the last year I have published a first author manuscript, mentored an undergraduate summer research student, defended my thesis, graduated from my doctorate program and relocated to start my postdoctoral research position. Phew, yeah I know... it all happened so quickly and I have lots that I want to share with you about each of these events. First I will start with how I approached finding a postdoctoral position.

Identify exciting research
Thinking about finding a postdoctoral position nearly gave me an anxiety attack.  But I calmed down and initially approached the search by identifying labs whose research greatly peeked my interest. I view the postdoctoral position as a great opportunity for me to modify my research focus, but remain within the broader scope of what my graduate work centered upon. With this in mind, I scrolled website after website of numerous labs located at a very short list of universities where I wanted to conduct my postdoctoral research.  After reading a variety of research summaries, I decided to further investigate the labs whose research made me feel "giddy."  (I know that sounds unprofessional, but if the research does not garner feelings of excitement, then I know that is not the lab for me.)

Explore the publication record
For these labs whose research I found interesting, I next explored their publication history. Most lab web pages display the most recent or impressive articles that they have published. However, I also visited the NCBI PubMed website to view a more thorough publication record. To do this, I went to PubMed and typed in the last name and first initial of the principal investigator of the lab followed by [au] (For example, Researcher X [au]) and clicked "search."  Sometimes I had to add a key word to narrow results when the professor's last name and first initial was too common). Conducting this publication search was important because examining the lab's publication record shows the types of journals in which a lab publishes; i.e. journals that feature clinical, technical, or basic research, etc.

Review trainees 
Exploration of the publication record also gave me insight into the composition of trainees in a given lab. How so? Well, articles always provide a listing of contributing authors.  I cross-referenced the authors' names with the lab's website, and began to learn that some labs were primarily comprised of postdocs, whereas others had a mixture of individuals at various stages in their career and from varying disciplines, i.e. graduate students, undergraduate students, technicians, biostatisticians, clinicians, etc.). Depending on the publication date, some of the authors of an article no longer were present in thatalab. So it was important to do a little more research to see where trainees went after leaving the lab. Most significantly, I wanted to know what became of the postdocs once they left the lab. Did they go move into faculty appointments...go to industry/biotech...land a position in government? Tracking past trainees this way allowed me to get a sense of how the training received in the potential lab facilitated movement of the trainees into their current positions. Some lab websites readily displayed such "where are they now" information and supplied me with instant answers.  However, when not provided, I simply Googled.

Learn how the lab is funded
Also, to be sure that the funding situation is secure for at least three years, I reviewed what funding the potential lab possessed.  If the lab is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), then this information can be accessed on the NIH RePORTER web page. On this site, I also learned what the potential lab has funding for, which allowed me to better understand the goals of the research and the duration of funding.

Time is short right now, so I will continue describing this journey in another post. In an upcoming post, I will share my experience with how I contacted and applied to prospective labs.

1 comment:

Sharon Ulrich said...

I think finding a postdoctoral position is one of the problems grad student are facing today. With the job market getting smaller, and a lot of people pursuing degree and writing phd dissertation, it’s no wonder that it would be hard for some people to find a position. One good thing about it is that you have a degree that you can call your own.

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