How to get Postdoctorate positions? In conversation with Vasudha Mishra, PhD
1. In brief, tell us about your post-doctoral work.
The focus of my postdoc work is the genetics of head & neck cancers. There are several aspects that we, as a team are working on:
We are doing multi-omics analysis (exome sequencing, RNa-Seq, mitochondrial sequencing, targeted gene panel sequencing, TCR sequencing & deconvolution analysis) to understand the mechanism behind the malignant transformation of an oral precancerous lesion.
We are also doing several preclinical studies on anti-cancer drugs to provide a strong rationale for evaluating them in clinical trials for recurrent or metastatic head and neck malignancies. We have published a few of our studies in top-tier journals (nature communications PMCID: PMC9385702, Cell death and Disease PMCID: PMC9355983) showing a strong anti-tumor response of a drug or drug delivery system in head and neck cancers.
2. When to start hunting for postdoc positions?
I would say, you can start building connections and networks as soon as you get into PhD as this will help in searching and narrowing down a good lab for your postdoc, based on your expertise and in a timely manner but a proper and dedicated postdoc hunt should begin in the final year of your thesis submission because that will be the time you can give commitments to the respective PI or lab on your joining as a postdoc.
3. Where to find postdoc positions?
Read papers related to your research. This will help you identify other groups working on similar kind of hypothesis/projects. Attend as many conferences as possible. This gives a lot of exposure to build connections and networking. Face-to-face interactions are always more impactful than writing emails.
4. What are the fellowships one can apply for a postdoc? Any particular site to get information about the same?
Every country and their Universities offers several fellowships to pursue postdoc e.g. In India, you can apply for: SERB National Post Doctoral Fellowship, Raman Post Doctoral Fellowship (IISc). In the USA, NIH offers several fellowships for postdoc (available on the NIH website), then you have Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation fellowship, Hope Funds for Cancer Research, etc.
5. How to communicate with the PIs to get a postdoc position? Like SOPs/work experience, what all are needed?
Get in direct contact with the PI of the lab you are interested in. Write a very focused email with a cover letter and a well-drafted CV that precisely describes your scientific background, how best you will fit into their lab, and the projects they are working on. Write about your expertise, interest, read about their ongoing research, mention what you like the most in specific projects and how you will contribute to it in terms of novel ideas and strategies. Your approach should clearly reflect your potential on why they should hire you over anyone else.
6. What was your strategy while sorting the postdoc labs?
My strategy was very clear, I did not want to blindly apply to whatever postdoc positions I see being advertised. I specifically wrote emails to the PIs I was interested to work with. The email was supported with a CV and a well-written cover letter. Because I believe that, If a PI thinks that you are a good fit in their lab, they will hire you and create a postdoc position for you. You just have to stand truly on your potential. This actually helped me get a postdoc position in my very first attempt.
7. What made you choose the lab you are currently pursuing for your postdoc?
During my PhD, I used to cite the papers from this lab. So, I knew that this group is actively working on Head & Neck cancer genetics. I kept reading about their new projects and publications and realized that my expertise in cancer genetics fits well with the projects this lab is working on. I knew this was a prestigious and top-tier University and would definitely give me good exposure to grow as a scientist.
8. Is there any chance of getting a postdoc position in a different field than your Ph.D. background?
If you are well-read and want to explore a different field, then it all depends on how well you convince the PI that you are a good match for their team. A good researcher/scientist should definitely have the quality to convince the audience about their work, theories, or hypothesis. This is absolutely important if you want to thrive in the scientific world.
9. On average, how much can one expect to get as a postdoc salary, and is this negotiable?
At entry levels, it is hard to negotiate especially in academic settings.
10. Postdoc or industry, which is better?
Each has its own pros and cons. Totally depends on what you want to choose for yourself.
11. Do work presentations in international conferences facilitate getting a postdoc abroad?
Absolutely yes! International conferences are a great platform to meet people from the vast international scientific community, learn about their work, build connections and showcase your own work and get feedback and recognition.
I am a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, Department of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. I did my PhD in Cancer Genetics from ACTREC, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai. My PhD work was focused on elucidating the genetic pathways of Medullary Thyroid Carcinogenesis. I have expertise in cancer genetics & genomics, Head & Neck cancers, translational cancer research, molecular biology techniques including high throughput Next Generation sequencing, and human tissue and organoid culture. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.