When you apply for a post-doctoral fellowship and the review comments say you’re not a very strong candidate because you haven’t received previous funding yet…
I thought I had a really good and exciting science idea and wrote it up in a bunch of grants. One went to one of the Marie Curie Actions, one went to another European thing that I’m not sure was a great fit for my grant and another went with a collaborator as a multi PI R01 to NIH. The Marie Curie thing got an okay score but wasn’t funded. The other European thing was the grant with a 3% funding rate and was rejected too. The R01 was triaged.
Back when the other European thing was rejected on twitter @Strangesource told me to submit ideas to 3 different funding sources and if none got funded to seriously rethink that idea. And this morning I read this post from Michael Tomasson saying that a triaged R01 needs some serious reconsideration, because there are only rare examples that those will be funded upon resubmission.
Soooo time for some reconsideration: to what extend was this “three strikes is out”? Does the European thing with a 3% funding rate count? Does the triaged R01 count since it was a foreign submission that according to some was a long shot anyway? Do I need to break up with my what I thought was a really good science idea? (It does kind of feel like a break up in a way…) And to what extend to I change it then? I realize I have some thinking and reworking this idea to do.
Feel free to give more unsolicited advice in the comments!
This time I want to talk about finding a post-doc mentor. This topic of course not only applies to foreign post-docs but to anyone looking for a post-doc position. Lots and lots and lots and lots has been written about finding a mentor. And when I say mentor here, I mean the PI in the lab that you decided to join. Because of course you can always find more mentors in the people that surround you.
However, there are a couple things you might want to consider as a (non-native English speaking) foreigner:
First, a major reason – at least to me – to work in the US as a post-doc for a couple of years was to become more proficient in speaking and writing in English. In order to learn this, it is important that your PI, who you will be writing papers with and who will critique your presentations, is good at these things. This does not mean that your mentor needs to be American, but it is a good idea to go through hir publications and/or see them speak at a meeting and check out their style. Also, when you interview, ask who writes the papers. Because your mentor can be great at writing, if ze isn’t willing to teach you that, it’s useless.
Another reason for me to go to the US is that there are so many great scientific meetings here. Of course there are also great meetings in Europe, but living here is a great opportunity to go to meetings that are otherwise much more expensive to fly to. But you need to find out if your future mentor would be willing to let you go to meetings or whether ze chains you to the bench and never allows you to leave the lab. Ask this when you interview.
A last thing to consider specific to foreign post-docs is funding. Since your presence (and that of your family) here in the US is dependent on your visa, it is nice if your future mentor can offer you some guarantee of funding. Because it’s not that great if after a year the lab runs out of money and you need to find something else fast or you will need to leave the country. Of course another option is to come with your own funding – I will write about that later. Again, this is important for anyone, not just foreigners, but an important thing to remember is that if you’re not a US citizen, you’re not allowed to apply for an NRSA for example.
Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, decisions, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, managing people, meeting, mentoring, networking, postdoc, publishing papers, role models, travel
My graduate advisor did not like desktop computers. Ze was under the impression that people don’t really care for their desktop computers and they quickly get filled up with crap and then become slow. The lab only had desktop computers that were designated for things like the qPCR machine. So we all needed to have laptops. I think this is nice, because then you automatically have a computer if you need to work from home. However, my graduate advisor only paid for 150 euros a year (~$180) towards the purchase of a laptop (and mind you, this came from someone who hirself used laptops like lab notebooks: when one was full, ze would just buy a new one). Considering a graduate project in my homecountry takes 4 years that meant that you got $720 for a laptop (unless you worked on your own laptop for a year, and only then needed a new one, then you only got 3 years worth of money…). Given that I worked in a lab where we did a lot of “big data” type stuff, it basically meant that if you wanted to be able to still process data in your fourth year, you needed a laptop that was more expensive then what our graduate advisor would pay for.
Currently, I am in a lab where most people have desktop computers but some (including me) prefer get a laptop instead. I like to have all my stuff in one place and be able to work from more than one spot without having to remember to put my files on a hard drive or in a dropbox. My current PI paid for my laptop, and for some (but not all) people’s laptops in the lab. The rule was that if you got your own fellowship, you could get a laptop (however, as you might know I did not get a fellowship, but did get a laptop). But after nearly 3.5 years of daily use (to work in the lab and at home but also to watch TV at home) my laptop broke. I don’t have a fellowship yet to pay my own new laptop, and since I will only be in the lab for 5 more months, I decided that I didn’t want to ask my PI for another new laptop. So now I am working on a laptop that I paid for myself. And I know of more labs where people are required to bring a laptop to do work, but have to pay for those themselves. And I understand money is tight and all that, but if lab equipment and consumables are so much more costly than computers, why don’t some PIs equip the people in their lab with decent computers?
Bashir has a post up about postdoc fundingwhere he says that it’s weird that it takes a long time (~year) to apply for funding (i.e. the time between applying and hearing whether you’ve got the money) and that it’s hard that funding is rarely for longer than 2-3 years whereas the average postdoc length is more like >5 years. So you either have to stitch several grants together or (like me) be lucky enough that your PI supports you. I am currently applying for grant #5, the previous 4 I didn’t get.
In the comments Drugmonkey suggests a system in which you can only apply once within the first year after getting your PhD. This is actually exactly the system that the home country funding agency has for handing out postdoc grants, and I don’t really like it for the following reasons:
First, the fact that you have to apply within the first year after your PhD, and the fact that this funding agency looks at CV (meaning: number of papers published) a lot, means that you should preferably wait as long as you can to apply to get as many papers from your PhD out. However, the funding agency also prefers it if you’re not yet at your host lab when you submit your grant, meaning that the only way around this is to stick around in your PhD lab for another year (or take a looooong time getting your PhD so that most of your papers are already published). I’m not so sure if that’s something you want to encourage.
Second, I think the transition between PhD and postdoc is the best time to switch fields or learn a new technique. When you choose the lab to do your PhD in, you may not be aware of your interests, or all the techniques that you can learn. Or you may switch interests during the course of you PhD. And during your postdoc you should form ideas about what you want to do when you have your own lab, so that doesn’t seem like a point in your career to make any dramatic changes to what you’re doing (or am I wrong? Please discuss!). However, if you need to learn a new technique (like I did, I only started doing slice electrophysiology during my postdoc), it’s very difficult to write a grant about experiments when you don’t have a clear idea what exactly those experiments are and how much time they will take. So a grant like this will either favor people who stay in their field and keep doing what they know or people who’s PI writes their grants for them. I’m not sure that is something you want to encourage either.
Also, being able to apply only once takes away the opportunity to learn from the review comments and improve your proposal in a next round.
Anyway, this comes from someone who thought that she had very strategically waited to apply for this grant until the last possibly option for her (a year after defending my PhD), because by then she had most of her papers from grad school published. However, then the government of the home country decided that this round of said grant was going to be the last, so all of a sudden many more people applied but they only handed out the same number of grants, meaning that the funding rate dropped to about half of what it normally is. Next round they said:”Haha we were just kidding, here is another round of this same grant”. So I may be a bit disgruntled about this.