Friday, April 13, 2012

Post-doc at a non-for profit

I had a quick meeting/tour at the Institute for Systems Biology this week.  (yes, Leeroy Hood's ISB- swoon).  Through a contact, I met a post-doc in mass-spec there.  It was great to get to check out the facility, and pretty cool to poke around South Lake Union a bit more.  I forget that all these science places are just cheek by jowl down there.  Seattle Biomed is right next door, UW and the Hutch are quite nearby, Novo Nordisk as some waterfront there, PATH and The Gates Foundation are around the corner.  This is where the science happens in Seattle.

Anyway, ISB is a fun building, bright colors, free coffee, lounges with big windows and wide open lab spaces.  My contact works in a core/research lab up there.  And I just had to know how he got his job.  He is a chemist by training, and had this side project that required him to learn Mass-Spec.  He went to ISB to learn their software package.  There was an opening for a post-doc to do that type of work, so he applied.  The PI was thrilled to have someone who already knew the software and asked him to start immediately- unfortunately, he was following the rule of looking for a job 18-12 months prior to graduating.  They agreed to delay 6 months.  He defended on a Friday and started that Monday.

This is an awesome story.  But in my slighted jaded view of the job hunt, it highlighted a few things. 
1) People who make those final hiring decisions are not experts in hiring.  Don't get me wrong, this guy was great, he seemed like it would be easy to work with and efficient at his job.  But in 6 months anyone could have learned the software package and been mashing out data.  He got hired because the PI liked him and probably hates hiring as much as the rest of us hate job hunting.
2) No one wants to pay for training anymore.  Many people have told me to be sure I list all the weird software packages I used on my resume.  VectorNTI, Kaliedagraph, ImageJ and ImageGauge haven't opened a lot of doors for me so far, but you never know.  If you could learn some software, I'd recommend ADME so you could be in pharmakokinetics.  I see job openings there.
3) He still doesn't know what he is going to do after the post-doc.  These not-for-profit situations aren't that different from academia in terms of mentorship, career advice etc.  But he gets paid better and gets benefits, so there is less drive to leave.  Many people there get hired on to permanent scientist positions, and very view go on to faculty positions.  But research is research, and it won't open the door to commercial jobs.  They are different skill sets.
4) These jobs could happen quick.  Most of the post-doc positions that are posted on these sites are immediate openings- funding and space are in place.  You've got a better shot if there isn't a geographical barrier. 

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