Finding your direction in science – part 2: The choice of PhD and PostDoc jobs

In the last “What´s on”, we discussed how to continue with your career/studies by bringing up tips and tricks to choose courses or PhD programs. Most of these tips also apply to later career stages. However, as you read on, you may find that we did not just copy and paste last month’s letter below. That would not be like us. So why bring it up again? Well, there are a few different points resulting from a more senior/experienced position.

First, let’s sum up again what still applies when looking for a new position no matter at which career stage you are (just because we cannot mention it often enough): Talk to other employees and to the potential new PI in person (if possible), and take a look at the lab you would like to work in. These points sound rather soft skill and gut feeling-related, but they may clear doubts and give you more confidence about what you want. Confidence that will also be reflected in your application and might convince your PI of choice.

Now, what is the difference between choosing courses at the university and PostDoc jobs? First of all, it’s more choosing what to apply for, actually getting the job is a whole different story. But if you choose wisely and apply for something you are interested in, you are very likely to perform much better during the application process. So it’s worth it!

At more advanced career stages, your current life situation and plans play a more crucial role. For many, the first major question is: Do I want to do a PostDoc and with that stay in academia at all? Good question. It is not as black and white as it seems. For example, there is the publishing market. And there are research jobs available in companies. On the other hand, some industry jobs require scientists with several years of postdoc experience.

It requires thinking ahead and knowing what your ultimate career goal is to properly plan and use your time to develop the skills you need. However, knowing that is not easy, and there is no general rule. That’s why we can only give some food for thought that might help you to structure your search. Sometimes it might be quite hard to find that “perfect” job. Sometimes the second choice or the unexpected option turns out to be the best one.

  • Long-term: Would you like to be a PI one day? Applying for your own grants and getting high impact papers early on is what you should focus on.
  • Contract length: Would prefer a five year or maybe even unlimited contract to build up something over a couple of years at the same location? Or is it actually attractive to you to know that after 1-2 years there will have to be something new?
  • Private/family life: Very related to be point Shorter contracts make it more difficult, but not impossible to start a family life. Talk to colleagues and share experiences.
  • Money: It is not a secret that some jobs offer much higher salaries for scientist than others. However, what comes with that and how important a big salary is for you personally?
  • The reputation of PI: Big names may lead to big papers, big grants and big perspectives! That’s what it seems like in some cases. But is that what you should go automatically for?

Again, this list could go on and on. What a great letter of advice! It gives more questions and the pile of questions that you already had! You were hoping for answers! Sorry, we would love to give you the ideal solution. Unfortunately, we have not found it yet. However, as we are all scientists, we believe that asking new questions might give some answers, right?

Good luck,