Start Your Search Early

It's never too early to begin your search for a postdoc position. Choosing the best postdoc is the key to your future success, and having multiple options will place you on the right track toward finding a great match. Take advantage of frequent mentor interactions as you draft and edit your thesis. These can be opportunities to get advice on your postdoc search and can help you to discover labs that may become your future research home.

Identify Your Career Goals

Consider your ultimate career goals as you choose a postdoc position. If you are interested in teaching, for example, ensure that the institution and mentor that you are considering will provide you with teaching experience. If you are interested in industry, chose a mentor who is active in drug discovery and producing patentable materials.

Know Your Facts

Explore the many sources of information available to guide you through the difficult fellowship selection process. Talk to postdocs in your current lab to see how they handled their searches. Get continual input on the process from your mentor and thesis committee. Use the Internet to your advantage, there are a number of online resources for graduate students. The following data sources provide interesting information and statistics that detail the current postdoctoral climate.

Prepare Your CV

Curriculum vitae (CVs) provide potential employers with a first look at your academic history and scientific successes. First impressions are lasting, it is critical to design a CV that is descriptive and brief and that shows the investigator that you are the right person for his or her postdoctoral fellowship. A number of resources are available to teach you how to create your scientific CV. One source can be found on the "How to Craft a Winning Resumé" page of the sciencecareers.org Web site.

Be Ready for Your Interviews

Interviews can be stressful. Many people struggle to maintain an even keel when meeting a potential employer, even if they are immensely qualified. As you prepare for your interviews, take note of these considerations:

The phone interview — This is your first chance to impress and the basis upon which a one-on-one interview is scheduled. It should be taken as seriously as the personal interview.

The personal interview — This is your time to share what you have learned in graduate school and show that you would be a good match for the position.

  • Perform extensive background reading on all of your interviewers.
  • Be prepared with questions about your interviewers' research.
  • Be yourself, but be professional.
  • Display curiosity and excitement for your interviewers' research.
  • Follow up soon after your interview with a thank you letter or e-mail.

The research presentation — An impeccable research talk speaks volumes for your potential. Be prepared to speak in front of your audience and answer questions.

  • Practice your research presentation with your lab and a group outside of your research circle.
  • Tailor the presentation to your audience; provide background to show that you would be a good fit with the group.
  • Clearly state your hypothesis or hypotheses early on in the presentation.
  • Segment your talk to draw sequential and understandable conclusions that address your hypotheses.
  • Answer questions with confidence and to the best of your knowledge but do not speculate.

Interview Your Interviewers

Interviews with potential postdoc mentors are your opportunity to obtain details about the fellowship. What are their expectations for postdoctoral researchers? On average, how many work hours do they expect from their postdocs? What level of independence is expected of a postdoc? What additional training opportunities and facilities are available at their institution? For a comprehensive set of questions that you might want to ask your interviewers, go to the "Becoming a Postdoc" page on the FASEB Web site.

No matter how much information you collect about a particular lab or institution, nothing can give you as much insight as a personal visit. Take the opportunity to speak with current postdocs during your interviews. They can give you details about what it is like to be a postdoctoral researcher in that lab and at that institution. As you continue through the postdoc selection process, these individuals will be a valuable source of information.

Consider Your Options Carefully

After you have interviewed with a number of potential postdoc mentors and collected all the information that you need, it is time to make a decision. The most important question is "Where will I be happy?" If you join a lab that has the potential to launch your career, but you aren't happy, you probably won't be productive.