Riccardo finished his PhD at KI in March of 2014. Since then he has gone on to thrive as a postdoctoral fellow at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Within minutes of meeting Riccardo you realize that he is incredibly organized and a strong communicator, two assets which certainly aided him in securing his position after concluding his PhD. You can see these skills displayed on his blog, SciencePlug, or you can follow him on Twitter, @RiccardoGuidi87.
On Monday, Riccardo led a seminar where he disseminated his advice on searching for and obtaining a postdoc position. His presentation was engaging, informative, and focused on practical guidelines. For those of you who were unable to attend the session, I have compiled my notes from his lecture.
Landing the postdoc in 4 steps
1. Know who you are, and how you introduce yourself.
In one to two sentences, say who are you, where do you work, what do you do, and perhaps include few details for professional audiences. Use plain English. Boil it down to a sentence or two which you can easily shorten for audiences who are not in your field.
“I am Riccardo Guidi, a postdoc at the Francis Crick Institute in London. I study why allergies are not curable, and design new strategies to treat allergic asthma.”
2. Prioritize your postdoc with specific criteria.
Prestige of location and research group is of utmost importance.
Official announcements are not a waste of your time. In some ways, publicly-announced positions may be better than relying solely on your network to find unannounced spots. For example, you can view important details such as the length and salary for announced positions.
“Naturejobs is your new best friend.”
Funding, and especially long-term funding, is critical.
In networking with successful young PIs, 6-year postdocs are the norm prior to going off to become independent.
Pay attention to the PI’s persona and your rapport.
Next, consider the novelty and impact of the research.
Lastly, consider the field of research.
This matters too, but in Riccardo’s view, the factors which were listed above are more important.
3. Tailor your CV and cover letter to the PI and to the position.
It is about them, not you.
Do not send a form letter which you could have sent to anyone. Specify that you know what they are working on, and why you are the right person for the job.
Be conservative when it comes to name-dropping
Usually only mentioning your PI is necessary.
End with an invitation.
Offer to visit the lab and communicate your availability to do a Skype interview.
4. Nail the interview.
Smile, be positive, and show your enthusiasm to potentially join their team.
Be comfortable asking them challenging questions including:
What happened to the former lab members who have left the group?
What are the long-term goals for this research group?
Be prepared to answer this question: what makes you the best candidate for this position?
Beyond the 4-step process
- Waiting until the last few months of your PhD is not too late. Riccardo only started a few months before his defense, in fact (editorial note: it is blatantly obvious that Riccardo knows how to hustle in the best possible way, so I cannot recommend waiting until the end for the faint of heart).
- Riccardo highly recommends using a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines, research groups, application status, etc.
- Many applicants are discarded immediately for failing to follow instructions
- Email the appropriate people a week or so after the application deadlines, and do not hesitate to call them. Riccardo called his current employer multiple times in his process of securing the position.
Apply to multiple positions.
- In addition to keeping your options open, you might be able to use a job offer from another as leverage in negotiating for your ideal position.
I greatly appreciated Riccardo’s honesty and concrete advice. His presentation was content-rich, and he effectively delivered his material in an interactive manner. Furthermore, he was gracious with his time, spending close to an additional half hour after the session to handle one-on-one questions. If you are interested in a postdoc after your PhD but were unable to attend this event, I am sorry to say, you really missed out. I encourage you to check out KI Career Service website and get on their email list so that you increase your chances to participate in future events such as this one.