From Postdoc to PI: How to Make the Leap?

Many postdocs dream about starting their own research groups. But what is required to become a principal investigator (PI) and how have other postdocs made the leap?

To help answer these questions the Karolinska Institute Postdoc Association (KIPA) and the KI Junior Faculty arranged an event called “From Postdoc to PI: How to make the leap?” on November 2nd.

I attended the event both as a volunteering KIPA member and as an interested postdoc.

The evening started with four short talks. Prof. Ylva Engström, Deputy Dean of Science at Stockholm University (SU), told us about the career paths at SU. She said that, surprisingly, the possibility of being evaluated for an associate professorship after being an assistant professor depended on how the assistant professorship was funded. Something to be aware of if you are going for an assistant professorship at SU.

Next, Prof. Jesper Lagergren, Vice Chairman of the Board of Research at KI, told us about how they evaluate PI applicants. He told us that with regards to publications they look at quality, number of publications, citations, impact factor, and placement in the list of authors. He also underlined that at KI it’s important to have support from one’s department head when applying for a PI position.

Prof. Mats Ulfendahl, president at the Swedish Society for Medical Research, stressed that a good project was the most important aspect of a grant application. The project should have the potential of making the applicant a leader in the chosen field.

Lastly, A/Prof. Emma Andersson, Chair of Junior Faculty at KI, said that persistence is important when you are aiming to become a PI. Be ready to apply for many grants and get many rejections before winning the first big grant.

The four talks were followed by a short panel discussion, where the audience got the chance to ask their questions. There was a great interest in the new Swedish law. The postdoc period in Sweden will be reduced to 5 years and the Swedish position equivalent to associate professor will get a new name, Biträdende Lektor, and new rules. Many were interested in how this will affect postdoc career paths in Sweden.

After the first session and some food and drinks, 10 PIs from KI and Uppsala University gathered with each their group of attendees. Here, they told their story about how they became PIs. And the attendees got a chance to ask them questions about their careers.

Each attendee got to participate in two groups of 45 min. After the first 45 min there were still lively discussions in the groups; there was plenty to discuss about academic career paths, particularly those that were less conventional.

I got the impression that people enjoyed the event and walked away with some useful tips and knowledge of what requirements they must meet to become PIs. If you missed the event, then KIPA will most likely arrange it again next year, so keep an eye out!

Visit the KIPA website at

Header: Top right to left: Ylva Engström, Jesper Lagergren, Mats Ulfendahl, and Emma Andersson. Bottom right: KIPA chair Elisa Floriddia and runner for KIPA vice-chair Eva Daskalakis. Photos by event organizer Kirsten Coupland.

One thought on “From Postdoc to PI: How to Make the Leap?

  1. It depends on the field. A true story in Software Engineering: wanna be a PI? Get a grant. Really, it’s that easy. No magical leaps, nothing else. Oh, wait, you didn’t get one? Welcome to the club of proposals lotteries, 2-3% acceptance rates, rejections by the national RCs with random reasons, arbitrariness, and finally… Go get a job in industry! Seriously. There’s too many researchers around anyway, and the practical impact of research is basically non-existent. It’s just a rush of citation grinding in Google Scholar (one of the main criteria to dismiss proposals) and ideas barely worth a paper bloated to death in 4-5 circular-self-citing publications nobody will ever read.

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