How to get Postdoctorate positions? In conversation with Dr. Rahul Mahendra Mojidra

1. In brief, tell us about your post-doctoral work.

Sung lab focuses on DNA damage response, DNA repair, and tumor suppression. I am trying to understand the role of BRCA1 in promoting homologous recombination to repair DSBs. BRCA1 being an E3 ligase, has the potential to ubiquitinate proteins (those promoting NHEJ) which would result in degradation, thus promoting the HR pathway. My work involves using insect cells to produce various mammalian proteins, including BRCA1, followed by purification (affinity /size exclusion/ HPLC) and to investigate interactions between BRCA1 and DSB repair pathway proteins which would provide insights into biochemical events taking place to promote HR. Understanding these biochemical events would also help uncover the tumor suppressor role played by BRCA1.

2. When to start hunting for postdoc positions?

I would suggest hunting for a postdoc position once you have your first author paper and your PhD synopsis ready.

The first author publication will provide background to showcase your expertise in the field, and it helps the PI to decide whether they require such expertise and, if yes, how to implement it in their lab.

It generally takes a few months from the date of synopsis till the thesis defense, so this time frame is ideal as work load is less, and the focus can be kept on searching for postdoc positions and preparing for the interview. You can also send the PhD synopsis to the PI/lab you are applying to, as it will give a gist of your complete PhD work which is often not reflected in one publication.

P.S. Get permission from your PI before sending the synopsis.

3. Where to find postdoc positions?

Postdoc positions can be found on social platforms like Twitter, and LinkedIn. STEM Peers group active on Facebook also post postdoc openings. Many universities and lab post on their websites, so keep a regular check.

Also, you can directly write to the PI. If your CV impresses, they can update you about the upcoming positions.

You can use the following links to search for postdoc positions as well:-

4. What are the fellowships one can apply for a postdoc? Any particular site to get information about the same?

Postdoc positions are usually funded, and it is hard to obtain a fellowship before joining any lab or university because one must first define the domain or the field of work when applying for a fellowship. Also, most fellowships require 1-4 years of postdoc experience. So after obtaining at least one year of experience, your chance of getting a fellowship increases as you will also have certain preliminary data to support your hypothesis.

You can find the details on the NIH-sponsored fellowship by using the following links

If you are planning to apply for a postdoc in India, the Wellcome-DBT alliance has one such fellowship that can be applied for in the final year of PhD, and if awarded, it will support your postdoctoral research. Details of the same can be found on the following link:

5. How to communicate with the PIs to get a postdoc position? Like SOPs/work experience, what all are needed?

The PI or the Lab usually mentions all required documents. Generally, a cover letter, an updated CV/resume with details of 3 referees, and an SOP are necessary initially. Later, if there is any positive response, you can also share your PhD synopsis (if you have clearance from your PI).

A cover letter is the first impression, so it has to be fitted on one page with a summary of your past and present research experience. One page because if you write an extended cover letter, a few PIs may just read a couple of paragraphs and leave it.

With SOP, you try to convey your interest in the lab. For this better, read a couple of papers from the lab, try to align your present research experience with it, and showcase what you can achieve in the lab with your acquired expertise.

6. What was your strategy while sorting the postdoc labs?

For the postdoc application, I have used 3 approaches:

i) Applying for the labs working in a similar field as my PhD work. I generated a list of labs from the various publications I referred to during my PhD. I kept checking their lab page to get updates on postdoc positions and applied to one of the positions

ii) Apply for the labs where the field of research is different but requires similar expertise from my PhD. These were mostly based on LinkedIn search

iii) Approached my seniors working as postdocs to update me about the openings

7. What made you choose your current postdoc lab?

My PhD project had two objectives. One of them was related to DSB repair, which I could not cover in detail because of a lack of training. I chose Sung lab as its focused on DNA repair and would provide me with the expertise I wanted. Sung lab works on biochemical aspects, which is a different avenue for me, giving me more opportunities to learn.

8. Is there any chance of getting a postdoc position in a different field than your Ph.D. background?

Yes, definitely. I am a perfect example of it. During my PhD, I utilized various genomic approaches to understand the imatinib resistance in CML. In contrast, now, as a postdoc, I am working in the field of biochemistry and structural biology, purifying proteins and characterizing them.

When you change the field, you will have to learn a few techniques required for the projects.

During postdoc, PI expects you to run your own project and collaborative projects at a certain pace, so a person with expertise in the same domain is preferred. But this is not a thumb rule; you can convince the PI that you have the ability to acquire new techniques and perform within the stipulated time.

9. On average, how much can one expect to get as a postdoc salary, and is this negotiable?

In the US, postdocs are paid as per the NIH standard, which is around 55K annually, increasing yearly with your experience. However, certain institutions provide comparatively higher pay, such as NIH institutions; the pay scale is about 62K annually.

Most postdoc posts are approved in project funding, so I am not aware of the negotiations. However, based on the expertise, years of experience, and cost of living of the place, one can negotiate the salary.

P.S.: Salary mentioned is taxable, so based on the state and federal taxes, salary varies from place to place.

In India, the postdoc gets a salary of around 55-60K per month (including HRA). Certain IITs offer a higher postdoc salary of 70-80 K per month (May be based on the funding status of the lab). If you can get the Wellcome-DBT fellowship mentioned above, it has a pay scale of 85K per month (kindly check the details once because it might have changed based on the funding norms).

10. Postdoc or industry, which is better?

I do not have any industry exposure so far, so I may not be suitable for deciding what is better. But doing a short postdoc for 2-3 years will add up to a CV, after which one can move to the industry.

For me, a postdoc is a final step in academia. At the end of my postdoc, I will be clear about whether to remain in academia for the long run or to move to the industry.

11. Do work presentations in international conferences facilitate getting a postdoc abroad?

Yes, it definitely helps. A couple of my friends did get a postdoc position after presenting their work at an international conference. During the conference, both invited 2-3 PIs working in the same domain to attend their posters. PIs did visit, and based on their work, both got a positive response further scheduling the interview for postdoc positions. One of my friend had a first-author publication, and another was about to submit the paper after the conference. So, in my view, they got an interview chance based on the work they presented.

Hello, I am Rahul Mahendra Mojidra, a postdoctoral fellow at Sung lab, Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology, UTHSCSA. Here I am trying to understand BRCA1-mediated biochemical events that promote the HR pathway for DSB repair. I have earned my PhD in life sciences from TMC-ACTREC, India. During my PhD, I worked on addressing the problem of imatinib resistance in CML. By implementing various genomics approaches, I was able to demonstrate chromosomal aberrations contribute to imatinib resistance and explored its diagnostic and therapeutic potential. Apart from research, I like playing cricket, and occasionally I write poems as well.

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