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Beyond Graduate School(addressing six specific questions) Daniel J. Jacob For a more general discussion of Ph.D. career options including non-research, see “Life after the PhD” by the same author
When is it time to start looking for post-docs/jobs? General practice in atmospheric chemistry research is to do onepostdoc before moving into a long-term job - Doing a postdoc is a good idea; gives you an opportunity to broaden your horizons, think about what you want to do, see your scientific stock value go up Setting competitive fellowships aside (see next slide), the right time to apply is six months before expected availability However, you should have worked towards this beforehand by promoting your visibility (see later slide) You should ALSO start applying for faculty and research scientist positions as you wrap up your PhD (and begin your postdoc) Good opportunities can be rare Selection process at universities can be very slow (years!) Applying for positions is good practice Even if they offer you a job, they will often let you do a postdoc beforehand (a win-win proposition) Don’t just rely on posted ads; ask about opportunities – many hiring decisions are made before the pro forma ad comes out Universities have a clean break between postdoc and faculty positions but national labs have more of a continuum – get your foot in door as postdoc or contractor and just get regularly promoted.
What are the logistics of applying? Any postdoc application will involve an adviser, but there are two ways of applying: Competitive fellowship (external or internal) To work on an adviser’s grant (supported by adviser) Competitive fellowships are on fixed yearly dates; grant-funded opportunities are typically more short-term/urgent (“I got this grant, now who will I get to work on it?”) Competitive fellowships have the advantage of independence, look good on CV But they also have danger; neglect by adviser In any case, the most important thing is to get a great postdoc adviser someone you greatly respect scientifically and who will train and promote you So …your first homework is to figure out who you want to work with! It is very important that you network with outside scientists during your Ph.D. Meet visitors, go to meetings, talk to people, ask questions! Read literature, browse web sites… Your second homework is to make contact Introduce yourself at meetings (after having asked questions!) Make contact by email – with CV and website attached Offer to apply for fellowships – suggest an external one, they may have internal ones Contacting multiple potential advisers at the same time is not good practice – go for your top choice and ask for prompt response. If response is ambivalent (or none) then go for second choice, etc.
What is the most effective way of publicizing our work/research to aid us in the application process? Publish. No one is going to want to talk to you if you don’t have publications Publications are the metric of scientific productivity – the rest is advertisement Your potential adviser wants someone who can write papers Create a personal buzz about yourself Have a strong internet presence – send e-mails, respond to e-mails, have a web site (mostly so you can refer people to it) Go to meetings – and participate! Ask questions! Sit in front! Meet with visitors – never miss an opportunity to talk about your research (without being annoying) Never miss an opportunity to give a presentation Learn to give an elevator speech about your work
What versatility do the skills and knowledge gained from our PhD offer us should we want to explore other academic fields? At the postdoc level, don’t “explore” lightly This is the last formal opportunity to broaden yourself – and that’s usually within your discipline where some reversibility is to be expected But if you go into another academic field there’s probably no going back “Under-represented” academic fields can provide great opportunities for switching These fields are generally desperate for postdocs Learning curve is often quick and professional opportunities are good They will look for people with good scientific pedigree (“can they publish”?) and strong recommendations (show presence!) Switching into established fields is more tricky - External postdoc fellowships can help – a very attractive profile for these fellowships is a superstar in a field who wants to explore another field. So be a superstar! More generally, if you’re a superstar everyone will want you regardless of field – so publish and network! Also look for opportunities between fields as a way to progressively wedge in to the other field – or become the wedge!
How easy is it to switch between fields and how and when can one start to make the switch? It’s easiest to switch between fields if you’re recognized as a star in your Ph.D. field If you’re a star everyone will want you regardless of field How do you get to be a star? Publications, recommenders It’s of course easiest to switch between neighboring fields The most interesting research is often at the boundaries between fields – and this is something your prospective postdoc adviser may be interested in Your final Ph.D. project could be an opportunity to link with a professor in a neighboring field
Could you suggest ways to explore/overlap with other fields while at grad school or during a postdoc to assess our own interest in other fields (or increase our marketability)? You have high marketability in atmospheric chemistry, a small club with high demand But you want to explore other fields. What should you do? Seek an external fellowship. If you have your own money you can do what you want. Young hotshots who want to explore other fields are very attractive for fellowships Open up with your adviser, who may see this as a great opportunity to initiate collaborative research with a colleague through you. Overlapping with other fields is relatively easy through a collaborative project… Most of the time it doesn’t pan out. Barriers between fields, cultures are just too great, But occasionally it does and then it’s a thrill that leads to new directions Working at the boundary between fields is great in theory, difficult in practice Funding tracks, job opportunities, support systems are aligned by discipline