Finding a post doc
Before you start looking for positions, you might want to stop and think about what kind of options are acceptable for you. After all, this will be a major part of your life and it is important that you consider what you want to get out of a position and how it could impact your quality of life. Think about what you would like to work on and what you would hate. You might be qualified to carry out a certain position but really don’t want to do it. Just because you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should! Think about what the red lines would be that you don’t want to cross in terms of where you want to work, doing what and with who.
There are two main courses of action for getting your next position in academia: make it happen yourself by writing a grant, or apply to an advertised position.
- Make it happen
- Find an advertised position
Applying for the post doc
If you can afford to, spend time tailoring each application to the job you are applying for. Use your CV to target specific points in the person specification, rather than simply sending the same bog standard CV for all applications. This will help push you to the front of the pile. Take each point in the person specification and try to include information on a relevant skill or experience that meets that point. This can be in your CV or in the accompanying cover letter. If you don’t meet one of the points in the specification, show enthusiasm and willingness to learn about that element. CVs are usually sorted using a points based system focused on how many of the desired criteria that you meet. However, don’t feel that you have to restrict yourself to these points. If you can see alternative skill sets that are particularly relevant to the project that have not been considered in the application, share your thoughts and ideas. This will show that you understand what is required from the project and have thought about other aspects that you can bring to the table. Finally, when you have been working as part of a close group, it is easy to forget that you have very specific skills, particularly when other people in your group also have these skills and are working on similar things to you. Remember, that outside of your group, those shared skills may be quite rare. So don’t forget about them or assume that many people can do what you do. See my previous blog post on writing academic CVs for more information.
Interviews are tough. They are stressful and there is a lot of pressure, particularly on how to respond when you don’t know the answer to a question. The key thing here is to try to maintain your composure (even if you are the total opposite on the inside!).
You will often be asked to give a short presentation. This should be different to the kinds of talks you give at conferences. Instead of trying to show how you were able to do this new and exciting thing, you are trying to show how doing this new and exciting thing has provided you with skills that are relevant to the new project.
Prepare for the questions that you know are going to come up, this way they won’t catch you by surprise. The usual suspects are:
- What work have you been doing up to now?
- Why do you want the job?
- How are your skills suited to the position?
- What do you want to do next?
- Etc. etc.
Then when the unknown questions come up, you should be a little less flustered after being able to provide thought out answers for the usual ones. If you are unsure of the meaning of a question or would like some clarification, ask! Take time in answering your questions, don’t be afraid to take a minute to compose your thoughts. Take a drink of water in with you and take a sip if you need something to stop you from blurting out the first thing that comes into your head. If you can, think about how you can round off or summarise a point. This makes is obvious when you have finished answering a question and prevents your responses from trailing off. Mock interviews can be very useful for practising these sorts of skills. Universities often offer sessions where you can take part in mock interviews, otherwise ask the people that you work with to help you. You do not want your first interview to be the time when you figure out which areas you need to improve on.
Well I hope this compilation of advice has been useful! I can take no credit for the content but I learnt a lot and thought it would be best to share! If you ever get the chance to go to one of these events, I can highly recommend it.