Difficult times have come over us at the moment. We hope with coming back to your traditional YSSC newsletter this month we can provide some kind of reliable normality. Most and foremost, we hope you are al safe and healthy.
This month we would like to discuss a question that has come up in many interactions with you guys at ISN schools, meetings or online: How do I get in touch with PIs? We do realize that planning a visit abroad is even harder at the moment and probably not top of your to do list, but maybe our tips can help you at later times.
Visiting another lab is something that a lot of us want to do either during or in between jobs, and it is important. It broadens your horizon, helps you to meet people, make your own network and equip yourself with tools for your career in and outside of the lab. So why not? There are a few things to consider:
- Where do I go?
- Why exactly do I want to go there (specific method, direct support for my project, work with a particular person, etc.)?
- Who is going to pay for my salary, travel, and accommodation?
- How long do I want to go for?
- Why does the YSSC always say “few things” and then starts an endless list?
The first thing to do is to answer these questions yourself. Your colleagues or your PI could be helpful with that, as they might know people you could contact, so make use of that resource. However, your boss especially will be much easier to convince if you have done your homework, meaning that you have a clear idea why you want to go away and how that could help you and your project. This is essential not only for your PI, but also for your future host PI. The thing with big shots (or actually almost everyone carrying the professor title) is that they get a LOT of emails and they have neither a lot of time to read all of them in detail nor space for everyone in their lab. So, if you want to make a good impression, stand out of the crowd and make them interested in working with you. A starting point would be the following check-list:
- Be polite/formal: This should be obvious, but it is worth starting with “Dear Professor..”. This does not mean you should spend half a page telling them why they are so great; please don’t.
- Introduce yourself briefly: Name, position, institute, topic. They can ask if they want to know more or you can attach a CV.
- (most important) Be precise and clear: What do you want from them? Why do you want to work with them? Is there anything you need them to do now? What is in it for them (e.g. your hard work and possibly interesting results, a collaboration with you and your boss,… you have got more to offer than you think.)?
- Make sure the email as a whole is short, easy to read and formally correct (have somebody else proofread it).
Hang on, what about the money? Well, this is something that usually comes after the first contact has been successful. Of course if you can say you have salary support for the contact, you are more likely to be successful, but to apply for money you usually need the confirmation of your host lab. So either the PIs sort it out, in some cases stipends cover you for a certain amount of time or you can apply for grants. One of those would be the newly released ISN-ITS (International Travel Support), which could get you up to 4000 USD, if you are a long-term ISN member visiting another ISN member.
This is one of the things that you could check before you start contacting anyone. So, bottom line: be sure you have ideas, made up your mind about why, what, potentially where and how to pay. The rest will be easier to sort.
One last point: If no one gets back to you within 2 weeks of your initial request, send a kind reminder email. If that still is not replied to, you might want to find alternatives and send one more reminder, but not more than that. If they don’t even have the time to say “no” or to forward you to someone who can help you, how much time will they have to interact with you during your visit? Will that be worth it for you?
Good luck and stay safe!