do you want to work for me?

May 24 2011 Published by under academia, help, hiring, jr faculty

One thing that I have been thinking about a lot recently is how to attract good postdocs to my fledgling lab. This has only been intensified by the near-unanimous advice I have been getting both here and IRL that I need to focus on writing more grants and let the lab peeps collect the data. This raises the question: how do you recruit a good postdoc??

When I was looking for a postdoc, I wrote letters to people that I wanted to work for. They invited me for an interview, then offered me the job. I picked the one that I thought was the best fit and accepted the offer. Done! But, as a new lab I don't know if it works the same way. I feel like I should be more proactive, but I don't really know how. I usually have a couple people contact me after I give a talk, and I have put up some adverts on my website and subfield forums. But so far, there has been no one that I have been willing to recruit. There is one person that I have been in contact with that might come out for an interview, but they are almost a year away from defending.

I'm left sitting here wishing that a good (not even great) postdoc will call me up out of the blue. Surely there is a better way?

18 responses so far

  • Dave says:

    I think postings on science careers or nature jobs are free. What about asking mentors to pass along people they dont have room for? Other than that maybe be proactive at meetings with good graduate students.

    • gerty-z says:

      I am certainly trying the networking approach, so hopefully something falls out soon. As for the Science Careers/Nature Jobs: do grad students look at those when they are thinking about a postdoc?

      • I do, am I'm not even graduating yet. Just surveying what's out there. You might also think about throwing it up on biocareers or some other website some of us look at.

        • Dave says:

          I didnt look at those ads at all... in fact i think there might be a class of scientists who might be "above" ever publicly recruiting. Those were the people i think i contacted.

          A related question, why dont you describe your ideal postdoc?

          • I think a number of PI's recruit at meetings and take graduating PhD's from the labs of some of their contemporaries. But I've also seen some just throw out help wanted ads just to see what they get. I'm already sort of making introductions for myself with other PI's to get my name on their radars for future postdocing.

            But, it doesn't hurt to see what else is out there that may be new and interesting.

          • gerty-z says:

            Dave, I think that there are some labs that don't have to consider publicly recruiting since there is so much interest from prospective postdocs.

            As for my ideal postdoc, I can't provide a detailed description, as that would blow my pseud. But what I am looking for is pretty standard: someone that has been productive as a grad student (and published) and is interested in my research.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Professional society websites often have free job listings. Probably more targeted than the big scientific magazines.

  • Ads are almost worthless: 99% of the applications you get from an ad will be of the "Dear Esteemed Professor" variety. The best way for a new PI to get post-docs is by letting everyone you know who is more established than you that you would be interested in hearing from their rejects. That is how I got my first three post-docs, and they all did outstandingly.

  • GMP says:

    Is there a conference in your subspecialty? You can try to have the moderator of the conference's mailing list fwd a postdoc announcement to mailing list.

    I personally would not consider hiring a postdoc from a group where I don't know the PI -- we don't have to be buddies, but I have to know and respect the group's work, so I can have some trust in the training the prospective postdoc received. When I was advertising for my latest postdoc opening, I compiled a fairly extensive list of groups (from the names of PI's in a subspecialty workshop) where I know people receive training that I could use , and I sent a detailed job description email to the PI's, asking them to fwd to interested parties. This is how the best qualified applicants found me; interviewed three and they were all excellent. The one I hired has been doing extremely well so far.

    I also posted on a couple of online job sites (e.g. tiptop, UK Inst of Physics job site), but I didn't receive a single application worth considering this way, they were all underqualified or out of my area.

  • Our NIH Special Interest Group that I belong to sends out monthly update meetings that include postdoctoral opportunities. Very helpful and easy.

  • Namnezia says:

    I actually got a great postdoc through one of the professional society's ad services. The others were through word of mouth. That being said, I still find it very hard to recruit good postdocs.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Word. Of. Mouth. I've gotten excellent grad students and a postdoc that way.

  • Heavy says:

    Small sample size but I believe to be the norm. I have three postdocs currently. One was hired word of mouth, two others were from posted job searches. One is superb, one is good, and one is barely making it. Wanna guess who is the superstar?

  • Dr 27 says:

    I think posting ads at a couple of society/journal web sites is a good starting place. One thing my former department did was that for incoming students and for every recruitment session they had they printed this brochure listing all the profs in the departments with a short description of their research, a list of a few publications, whether they were funded and if they had open spots for grad students and postdocs. Also, when my PI moved from the previous school to the one where I did my PhD they made the point of mentioning at the end of every talk that they were openly recruiting postdocs and grad students, that usually mobilized people. And like it's been said before, talk to people you know and trust and see if someone is looking to move to your geographical area and wants to postdoc with you. Best of luck!!

  • Dr. O says:

    While posting ads might be a good way to let someone from a good lab know you're out there looking, I barely looked at the ads myself when thinking about postdocs. So I'm not really sure what you'd pick up via that route, but it's probably worth it to at least post since the society level ones appear to be free.

    That said, I really like CPP's idea of talking to the more established folks in your field, as well as some of the PIs in your department, to get your hands on some solid postdoc material that they don't currently have space/money for.

  • Grimmrad says:

    I posted mine in Nature Jobs - indeed, you get 90% Dear Sir/Madam and by now I immediately delete those and even don't bother to answer any more (if they don't bother to at least put my name in there). However, 10% are more interesting and 1% are exciting. Another important point is to have a good web page for the lab and to advertise there. Also through contacts with colleagues you can get good ones, especially when a close collaborator recommends them.

  • Simon says:

    I'm not sure how large your school network is, but, although certainly not the norm, you may be able to pick up a graduate student that wants to stay at the school (perhaps even from another department) for postdoctoral training.

    Every time you give an invited talk (or even talk at your own school), mention that you're hiring.

    It's also nice to have funding available for the first year. It's a bit stressful as a graduate student to apply for pd fellowships when they are otherwise wrapping up papers and dissertations.

  • alethea says:

    In my field (biophysics/structural bio), most students I know don't really look at job postings. I thing the general assumption is that while people may post a spot, they really already have a few people in mind who they want, so the chances of getting hired is low. (I don't know if this is actually true, but it is the common perception.)

    The main we we get postdocs is by going to labs of people we know from conferences, project grants, collaborations and other person-to-person connections.

    One great way to scoop up some postdocs is at conferences. Go to posters of grad students presenting on related topics, see if they're getting good data/publications, what their presentation skills are like, etc. Then, if you like them, personally ask them to apply and give them a card. You get the opportunity to preview them, as well as describe what kind of exciting work you've got going on. I've gotten several post-doc offers this way, and even though I'm not close enough to done to be considering them, the personal approach makes these offers stick in my mind and I'm more likely to consider these labs when I am ready to start looking for a PD.

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