From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

September 2007
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Post Doctoral Conversation 2. International considerations
Filed under: Interviewing, Position Searching, Public Relations docs, Networking, Mentoring, Post-docs
Posted by: site admin @ 4:05 pm


One of the most significant decisions doctoral
candidates have in front of them when they make
their decision to finish their degree is “what will
I do next.”

A common routes is to apply for and accept
temporary post-doctoral position(s).  Future
academic positions will often separate
candidates based on doing a post-doc.  In
certain industrial fields working as a post-doc
has advantages.  It is helpful for chemists
who are foreign nationals to have post-
doctoral experience.  These are
observations, but not absolutes.

The choice of post-doc is what interests you and
what you want to do next in your career.  We will
talk about international post-docs in this post. 
It is one that has attracted relatively little

The discussion is based on a conversation
with a member who has successfully gone
through the experience and agreed to
have his comments shared.

JD>  “First, I must say that the experience of doing
a postdoc abroad has been invigorating and I
would highly recommend it to anyone.  The
experience has changed my outlook on myself
as a scientist (it enabled me to stretch my scientific
wings), the way science research can be structured
(more collaborative…), and the balance
between work and life (bet you can guess that
Brazil has a better work/life balance than the US).” 

“I am sure there are millions of other changes… “

Dan> Did you choose a mentor who has a strong
research and pub record with a view to
growing your record?
Did you choose your mentor with the thought
that he would help you attain a position when
you are complete?
Did you choose an area different from your
thesis to broaden your background?

JD> “When I was in the second year of my PhD, a
professor from the University of São Paulo spent
a year and a half sabbatical in our lab…”.  “This
professor and I worked well together and enjoyed
collaborating.  Before he left, he invited me to
come down to Brazil upon my graduation.  After
graduating, I decided to accept his offer to come
down to Brazil based on the following factors
(not necessarily in order of importance):

1) I knew this professor and knew that we would
work well together,
2) his focus on electrochemistry and
electrocatalysis would allow me to broaden my
science research background,
3) I liked the idea of immersing myself in a new
country, culture and language.

Regarding your question about whether I chose
my mentor for his ability to help with the job search,
I didn’t think of that.  The US and Brazil do have
some ties, but it is still difficult for a professor in
Brazil to have a very broad network of professional
contacts in the US. 
I would say that is the only downside to doing a
post doc abroad.

In terms of applying for jobs, I see a lot of
advantages.  A number of people each year
receive PhDs from strong research universities,
but few of them choose to go abroad.  As
such, I have found that international
experience definitely gets attention. 
Companies that value geographic flexibility,
innovation, and different perspectives seem
to appreciate the post doctoral
experience in Brazil.”  

Dan>  What was the most useful tool you
used to obtain the post-doc?

JD>  “Personal connection!”

Dan>  What did you learn in your search for
a post-doc?

JD>  “I didn’t do much searching because I
already knew the advisor for whom I planned
to work.”

Dan>  what were the 3 most significant things
about your post-doctoral experience?

JD>  “The three most significant things about my
post-doc are as follows:

Perspective:  It was very helpful to do science
in a different environment, to see what other
people do and how they do it.  Greater
perspective enabled me [to] clarify my own
interests and goals.

New scientific duties:  As a post-doc I had
the opportunity to play a greater leadership
role than as a graduate student.  I wrote grant
renewals, managed projects and advised
masters and doctoral students.  All these
new duties helped me grow as a

Broader research background:  By choosing
a post-doc in a different field than my graduate
degree, I expanded my interests and skills.

By far, the most difficult thing about applying
from abroad is the actual travel for onsite
interviews.  If one does a postdoc in England,
it’s no big deal travelwise, but running back
and forth from Brazil is time consuming. 
I am not sure if there is a truly good solution
to this problem (perhaps teleportation is
one option), but one possible solution would
be to move back to the US during this
season of interviews.  I have to consider

Dan> Where there differences between
your expectations and reality in the
post-doc role?

JD> “I wasn’t sure what to expect of a
post-doctoral position (especially because
I was going to a different country), but
I can say that I certainly did not expect
it to be as positive, invigorating or life
changing as it was.  Part of the
surprisingly positive experience may
be attributed to living in a different
country and part of it may be attributed
to the intellectual vigor that comes with
the fact that post docs are much more
independent (as compared to grad
students), and can hence be much more
creative in their research.”

Dan>If you were to do it over, would you
work as a post-doc or choose to find a
permanent position

JD>  “I would definitely work as a post-doc. 
You have your whole life to find a longer
term position, but the time right after
graduate school is a good time to do
something different without looking like
a flake on your resume (i.e., if you 
changed jobs every 1.5 years you
might look non-committal)”

Dan>What are the key things to point out
about your post-doc experience

JD> Key things:
1) it’s a chance to stretch your scientific
wings.  Use the skills you learned as a
grad student to do something different,
creative, independent.
2) It’s a chance to build your skills (manage
and mentor graduate and undergraduate
students, write proposals, present at
conferences, etc.)

Dan>  Did any thing go wrong, what
could you have done better?

JD>  “I think it went well.  The only thing
I would suggest to others is that the
post-doctoral fellowships are so fast
(typically 1.5 - 2 years) that as soon as
you begin, you should think not just
about the post-doc itself, but also about
professional development and job
searching when the post-doc is finished.”

Dan> Any questions that should be asked
that I have not asked and your responses?

JD>  “The main things I think one should
consider when thinking about whether or
not todo a post-doc and/or about where
to do a post-doc are:

1)  What do you think you want to do in the
longer term?  For example, if you want to
get a professorship at a top 20 research
university; it you want ot work in a
multinational company, perhaps consider
a post-doc abroad.

2)  Do you want to spend more time
developing skills and doing research or
would you prefer to get settled in your
life?  If the latter, a post-doc many not
be so interesting for you.

3)  What are your financial responsibilities?
If you have kids, a post-doc may not be a
very attactive option because the salary
is not much better than a graduate student.
I even found that paying student loans was
a bit onerous on a post-doc salary.

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