In Part 1, David Rasko, PhD, shared his tips for post-docs who are looking for a research position at an academic institution. David is an Assistant Professor, Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and a scientist at the Institute for Genome Sciences, and he has additional advice.
You’ve written a good cover letter, what happens next?
If a cover letter is impressive, David then schedules a phone interview with the candidate. Here again, the candidate applying for a research position should be prepared to demonstrate familiarity with the research leader’s work.
“One of the best candidates I’ve interviewed was well prepared for his phone interview. He had read one of my recent papers and, during our discussion, he questioned me about whether I’d considered another aspect of the research. First, it demonstrated to me that he knew something about my work and, secondly, while he was transitioning to microbial genomics from his previous work in bioinformatics, he had the critical thinking we value and understood what we were trying to do,” said David. “Not surprisingly, we hired him.”
If possible, synchronize your job search with a large national meeting.
For example, the American Society for Microbiology has several resources that they offer in conjunction with their large conferences. For their Annual Meeting and for ICAAC, they host a career connection section of their website for post-docs which includes options for requesting interviews http://www.icaac.org/.
“If we don’t have to fly a candidate in to interview them, it’s much easier,” David explains. “As the candidate, you can interview with more prominent people by timing it with the conferences. One colleague I know met several postdocs each day during the last ASM meeting for interviews.”
David finds that postdocs approach him at his poster presentations and that’s fine, too. Although this is casual, remember that even an informal discussion is an introduction. If you are interested in working with a specific scientist, be prepared to talk about how you might be a valuable addition to their labs.
Use your personal connections to connect to a key scientist.“
I do receive cold CV’s,” Dave explains, “but if I get one from a colleague recommending that I interview the candidate, it carries more weight.” So, it’s worth taking the time to ask one of your mentors (and if they are too busy to write a note, help them by supplying suggested copy).
Working in a lab for many years is a labor of love. You have to match personalities with the others in that group. As you interview with people, you want to match work styles, too.
“I once interviewed with someone who ran a very well-funded lab and had a great reputation. He readily admitted that he wanted to know what was going on every minute in that lab,” Dave explains. “That would not have been a good fit for me. Your personality and work style have to factor in to your choice.”
To summarize, in today’s competitive environment, you need to do your homework and use your connections to find your best placement. Try to find key scientists whose work aligns with your passion and be prepared to interact with them at conferences. Perhaps the overall theme of David’s advice is: if you prepare carefully, you will increase your odds at finding a research environment that is ideal for you.