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Looking for a Job or a Postdoc Position?

That's not meant to be a job offer, unfortunately. It is, however, an offer to share some of the information I've found while searching for jobs. What follows is a set of questions I've asked myself at some point during the search for jobs. I'm based in the US and I'm assuming you are as well, though that may be completely incorrect! Most of my experience has been with biomedical and bioinformatics research and most recently in searching for postdoctoral positions. If things are different in your geographic area, field, or personal experiences, please let me know.

Please contact me at j.harry.caufield@gmail.com with any questions or concerns.

 

WHERE CAN I FIND JOBS?

Always a good question! Networking is supposedly the preferred method but few people agree on methodology. See below for a more extensive discussion of the problem. If we approach networking from a "small world" perspective then it seems that the people doing the hiring may only be a few steps away from you in a social network. Even with sites like LinkedIn or Researchgate in existence it's difficult to visualize that network, though the big sites may provide some names of hubs in your social network. My best suggestion is to use all of these resources (plus Twitter, and Facebook, or wherever your favorite researchers and thinkers like to spend their time) casually rather than spending a lot of time actively searching.

And then there are job portals. I will assume you are already familiar with IndeedGlassdoorSimplyHired, and similar search engines. For more science-specific job posts:

NameTypeLocationURL
AcademicPositions.euAcademic and research jobsEuropehttps://academicpositions.eu/
HERC JobsAcademic jobs and other positions in higher education. Has a dual-career search optionUS, mostlyhttps://main.hercjobs.org/
HigherEdJobsAcademic jobs and other positions in higher education. Has a dual-career search optionUS, mostlyhttps://www.higheredjobs.com/
KaggleThough mostly a site for machine learning competitions, they have a data science-specific job board.Globalhttps://www.kaggle.com/jobs
HERC JobsAcademic jobs and other positions in higher education. Has a dual-career search optionUS, mostlyhttps://main.hercjobs.org/
Nature JobsAll sciences but especially biomedicalGlobalhttps://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/
NewScientist JobsAll sciences but especially biomedicalGlobalhttps://jobs.newscientist.com/
USAJOBSJobs with the US Government. Mostly just for US citizens. Keywords are important here - avoid abbreviations in search terms.UShttps://www.usajobs.gov/

 

If you're interested in a research career, don't forget about the large research intitutions out there. Here's a very limited list:

NameDescriptionLocationURL
CSIROThe Australian national science agency.Australiahttps://www.csiro.au/en/Careers
CDCThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.UShttps://jobs.cdc.gov/
EMBLThe European Molecular Biology Laboratory.Europe (Germany, France, Italy, UK)https://www.embl.de/jobs/
NIHThe National Institutes of Health. It may be easier to find NIH positions through other sources.UShttps://jobs.nih.gov/

For postdocs in particular, each one of these institutions has its own program(s), e.g. NIH has specific positions listed here as well as mechanisms like the IRTAs and the NIGMS PRAT program (in addition to the individual research support provided through F fellowships). 

There are also more local labs, like state public health labs in the US (or, if you're elsewhere, your local political body may have its own research facilities). These labs are often on the front lines of science and may deal with emergencies like disease outbreaks. One such example is Virginia's Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services. North Carolina has a similar division, as do Lousiana, Vermont, and most other US states. These labs may be excellent places to start if you're interested in epidemiology or toxicology. A big plus: they usually provide much of the necessary training or will at least help with earning certifications. 

Your field may have one or more dedicated forums which may include job posts. For me, one example is Biostars - just search it using the tag "job"

Scientific conferences frequently have job boards, with the added benefit of often having the relevant contacts available at the meeting itself. They can be a great chance for an informal talk without all the effort of submitting an application.

WHat should my CV look like? What about my résumé?

Whether you're using a CV or a résumé (or a resumé or even a resume, if you're feeling casual), keep the audience in mind. The document may be read by scientists, HR managers, and filtering algorithms. I've heard that some job application processes will scan CV's for a set of keywords and reject documents without a certain coverage of that set. Real human beings might do it, too: if you're applying for a job in a particular field, that field likely has a certain vocabulary associated with it and readers will expect to see those keywords. Ensure your CV contains all the relevant terms or it may appear irrelevant.

How do you find out what those terms are? Job posts are a good start and will usually make desired skills obvious or list them in parentheses. If not, it's time for some research, and you know how to do that already, right? It's never a bad idea to see what a job source has been involved with lately, whether it's published papers, projects listed on a LinkedIn profile, or even press releases.

 

Some useful advice from the Chronicle of Higher Ed is here. 

A CV/Resume Toolkit from UNC Chapel Hill.

 

HOW DO I DO THAT NETWORKING THING?

Sometimes "networking" feels like a euphemism for "manufacturing social awkwardness." I'd suspect that most people avoid networking for that reason, especially if they're self-described introverts. Here are several articles entitled "An Introvert's Guide to Networking" or a variant thereof, along with some selections:

Rebekah Campbell in the New York Times. ("If you can kill it in a one-on-one presentation, that’s all you need to do to build a network.")

Lisa Petrilli in the Harvard Business Review.  ("...seek out conversations with one individual at a time.")

Kirstie Brewer in the Guardian. ("it is still useful to think about soundbites for when the spotlight is turned back to you")

Maya Townsend in Inc. ("When networking, get outside your comfort zone. Do things that scare--but don't paralyze--you.")

Max Nisen in Quartz. ("Do your research on the people you reach out to, and find a mutual interest. The less random the request, the more it will seem worth their while.")

Sophia Dembling in Success Magazine. ("It’s a lot easier to attend events if you also give yourself permission to leave when you’ve had enough.")

Chemjobber in Chemical and Engineering News. ("Rather than feeling awkward about networking...constantly [look] for ways to help people without looking for a quid pro quo.")

There are few easy solutions here and much of this advice may seem obvious. One of the consistent themes is about how introverts find social interaction draining and should perform it in small doses. For you, this may mean one-on-one conversations are preferable to making small talk for hours at a massive convention. The overall conclusion is the same for everyone, even if you don't subscribe to the introvert/extrovert dichotomy: networking is inherently awkward. It won't go perfectly every time and it doesn't need to.

 

WHERE CAN I FIND FUNDING FOR MY RESEARCH?

If you're specifically looking for a fellowship, there are a few good places to start. Check to see if your current institution uses Pivot - it's a searchable database of funding sources along with details like deadlines and eligibility requirements. See also: this guide from UC Berkeley and this fellowship database at Harvard.

Your primary funding source may depend upon your location, field, and any number of other factors. If you're in biomedical research you may already be familiar with the NIH's various funding schemes. For postdocs, there are institutional training grants like the T32T90, or fellowships for individuals like those listed herePostdocs with a few years of experience (but no more than four years, in most cases) are eligible to apply for the NIH K99 "Pathway to Independence" award. This is a substantial award with the potential for transitioning to an R00, which is more or less an entry-level R01 but with a title more evocative of marsupials, depending on the typeface.

An Israeli banknote with Einstein on it. Ideally you can find a bit more funding. (More than the <$10 this is currently worth, not more than Einstein.)

An Israeli banknote with Einstein on it. Ideally you can find a bit more funding. (More than the <$10 this is currently worth, not more than Einstein.)

 

How much should I expect to get paid as a postdoc?

This depends on your funding source and the country you're working in. I'm also focusing on academic research postdoc positions here. Industry postdocs exist and are generally paid better than their academic counterparts but positions are rare.

Please note that all numbers here are estimates and vary by position. Net income is likely even rougher and may depend upon your residency status, number of children, etc. The amount may also vary due to cost of living in a particular area. If you notice anything overtly inaccurate, please let me know.

In the US: Don't expect to see much more than $50,000 gross per year to start. 

For NIH training grants, most of the associated stipends follow the same plan, described here (last updated 2016). Entry level postdocs receive $43,692 per year under that structure. If we assume that taxes and Social Security are about $7,500 and that health insurance (not included, but this may vary, of course) could be about $3,000 per year then the net income is $33,192. Even if you aren't funded through an NIH grant you may still be paid according to the NIH pay scale.

NSF-funded postdocs may start at just under $50,000/year. I'm still trying to find some good, official references for that.

In general, engineering and physics postdocs are generally paid more than most other postdocs, though only if we include industry and government positions. The salary reports done by the American Institute of Physics are helpful here.

Proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act may lead to higher postdoc salaries soon. The popular target seems to be $50,000/year. I'll believe that when it happens. See also: this 2014 PNAS article on problems with biomedical research in the US.

In Germany: Government-funded research positions are governed by the TVöD (the Tarifvertrag für den öffentlichen Dienst, or Collective Agreement for Government Service). Most of the job posts I've seen are around TVöD level E14. Level I at the E14 category is 47695.79 € raw and 28512.09 € after taxes + insurance, or ~$54,000 raw and ~$32,000 net. The full structure is described here but may be more information than you need, especially if you can't read German.

EMBL jobs follow an internal pay scale which is advertised on their job posts but isn’t clear about how much the salary actually is. They are covered by a special tax situation, though, so they're a special case even if you're a US citizen.

In Austria: If the job is funded by the FWF, see this guideThere’s a calculator here. The FWF salary standards vary by location; for Vienna, a postdoc gets about 49,644 € gross and 31,444 net per year (or, in USD, about $35,750 per year).

In Switzerland: There's a useful breakdown here courtesy of myscience.ch, though most of the numbers are from 2009. I'm estimating that a net monthly salary of about 5,000 CHF (and roughly the same in USD, since the exchange rate is near parity) is realistic, so that's 60,000 CHF per year after taxes. The tax rate may vary based on work location, your family status, and other factors, but somewhere in that 60,000 to 70,000 range net per year seems to be about average for new postdocs.

In the UK: UK pay grades vary by employer and operate on a “spine point” system that I don’t understand well. Grade 5, the level at which many relevant jobs are, seems to be around £22,000 to £24,000 per year (that is, ~ $31,000) but may be more than that depending on location. As an example, a job posted by the Francis Crick Institute (London) specifically mentions an annual salary of £29,448 “inclusive of London Allowance”. 

A loss of EU funding sources in the post-Brexit UK could have additional impacts on postdoc positions, especially as more details of new legal frameworks emerge.

In Australia: This New Scientist article suggests that entry-level postdocs may be paid about $60,000 in Australian dollars (or, in USD, about $45,000). The exchange rate has changed noticeably since that article was written.

I've heard senior research faculty gripe about how long postdoc funding is intended to last vs. how long the average researcher remains a postdoc. This isn't really the place for that discussion but it's difficult to ignore how few research jobs exist for all the trainees planning to fill those jobs.

 

Are there non-traditional research programs out there somewhere?

Sure! NASA has a postdoctoral program. Specific projects can be found here and need to be identified before submitting an application. The Astrobiology projects are especially interesting.

The Smithsonian offers postdoctoral research fellowships: the Smithsonian Institution Fellowship Program (SIFP) of between 3 to 12 months, or longer-duration programs such as the Biodiversity Genomics Postdoctoral Fellowship. All fellowships place an emphasis on using the Smithsonian's unique resources and collections. As with other programs, it may be necessary to identify a potential research mentor beforehand - see the appropriate document here.

 

I LIKE SCIENCE, BUT COULD I DO SOMETHING BESIDES RESEARCH?

Yes, absolutely! "Alternative science careers" is a subject rich enough for its own page so I'll start with a few useful resources, followed by a few additional examples.

 

Don't forget about:

Brewing and distilling. I met this microbiologist once, briefly, at a conference at the University of Virginia. Less than a year later, he had quit his job to start a distillery. It makes sense: the field requires knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, plant science, physics, and engineering, especially if you want to make something drinkable. Craft breweries in the US are especially eager to develop new products and need help in doing so. Here's an example from my home institution and one of our local breweries - it isn't explicitly about jobs but the demand is out there. As of 2015, there were more than 4,000 breweries in the US alone, with more opening frequently.

Data visualization and illustration. I'm actually not sure if this is something one can reasonably approach as a career or just a source of freelance jobs. Some details are here. I do know that data science is in demand and includes many skills which researchers acquire in their everyday work. Couple those data wrangling skills with a creative and artistic eye and you may be able to carve out a niche. See also: this Quora question.

The history of science. "Writing about science" is one thing, but even career scientists often forget or never even learned which giants' shoulders they're standing on. Why not discover - and write about - that history yourself? It may even be possible to make more long-term impact on a scientific field though a single, general-audience book than through an entire career of scholarly publishing. See Beyond Academe for the other side of this process; the site is intended for history PhD holders seeking non-academic careers.