Posts Tagged ‘Scientist: Career considerations’

Heroes in Medical Research: The Postdoctoral Fellow

Writer: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D

Thank your Postdoc

The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) had its Fifth Annual Celebration Of National Postdoc Appreciation Week (NPAW) in September and I wanted to focus a posting on curating stories from postdoctoral fellows as well as private investigators (PIs) and mentors on the impacts that postdoctoral fellows had in research and to recognize the critical and tremendous contributions which postdocs make to science.

During our postdoctoral years, we develop deep friendships which last a lifetime, a close bonding to our kindred scientists different in nature than our bonding with our mentors.  Nothing can replace a great mentor but our fellow postdocs make a huge difference in our complete scientific training.

                                   It’s always the little things that stand out in our fondest memories

Unfortunately I have a plethora of fond, little memories; too many for this posting but just want to ad in a few things:

  • Thank you!    –  To all those postdocs who worked tirelessly to make a memorable PostDoc Day!
  • Thank you!  –  To all my postdoc colleagues who stayed late n the lab with me giving each other moral and scientific support
  • Thank you!  – All my postdoc friends who would give up their time to show me how to make and use a text box correctly in Word
  • Thank you!  =-  for your friendship and understanding in those rough times we had experienced

To enliven the discussion, I ask that postdocs, past, present, and future, as well as PI’s and postdoc mentors comment on their postdoc experience. I also would like PI’s to share the stories how their postdocs made an impact to their labs.

A few interesting links and articles from the web on the importance and struggles of postdocs are included below:

Keith Micoli, from New York University Langone Medical Center states in an Elsevier article on The Academic Executive Brief

Consequently, it’s very difficult to come up with accurate numbers. Current estimates on number of postdocs come between 40,000 and 90,000 — a range that is unacceptable. A solid bet is that there are 60,000 postdocs and that more than half, if not two thirds or higher, are international.

– from US research enterprise powered by international postdocs by Keith Micoli at NYU

Survey Methodology

Since Science started conducting annual surveys seven years ago, alternating between polling postdocs and postdoc advisors, the attributes that survey respondents select as being most important to a successful postdoc have not varied much.This year’s survey was launched on March 15, 2011, with e-mail invitations sent out to about 40,000 current and former postdoc advisors worldwide. Of the 798 completed surveys that were collected, 71 percent came from Europe (39 percent) and North America (32 percent). The remaining respondents were located in Asia/Australia/Pacific Rim (20 percent) or other areas of the world (9 percent). Most were males (72 percent) 40 years of age and older (76 percent) and worked in academic institutions (70 percent) and government organizations (13 percent). The primary area represented was the life sciences (57 percent).

However only a handful of institutions were featured.

An open letter to AAAS journal “Science”: Postdocs need to address the “The Future of Research”


This letter, posted on the Winnower.com, was a response to Callier’s article “Ailing academia needs culture change”1 and discussed how postdoctoral fellows have to lead in effecting change if the US research enterprise is to flourish in the future. In addition, the authors have been organizing Boston area postdoctoral associations and are sponsoring a symposium to be held at Boston University October 2-3 2014, focusing on the challenges facing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows: the “Future of Research” symposium (futureofresearch.org, @FORsymp).

  1. V. Callier, N. L. Vanderford. “Ailing academia needs culture change.” Science, 2014: 345; 6199: 885. DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6199.885-b

On the surface, many acknowledge the importance of postdoctoral fellows to the US research effort,


Please read Jacquelyn Gil, Ph.D.’s GREAT blog post

Have you hugged your postdoc today?

in The Contemplative Mammoth about her surviving postdoctoral life.

For some postdoc humor go to

http://phdcomics.com/comics.php where Jorge Cham, Ph.D. has been satiring the Ph.D. life since he was a graduate student in the late 90’s.

and see if you could be a star in their movie about Ph.D.’s: The PhD Movie and the sequel.

Don’t Underestimate Your Postdoc

Dr. Thomas C. Sudhof, MD is an example of a postdoctoral fellow making great contributions to a lab. A summary of his work is seen below and obtained from the site thebestschools.org on the “50 Most Influential Scientists”.


Thomas C. Südhof

Thomas C. Südhof is a biochemist and professor in the School of Medicine in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. He is best known for his work in the area of synaptic transmission, which is the process by which signaling chemicals known as neurotransmitters are released by one neuron and bind to and activate the receptors of another neuron.

Südhof won the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Randy Schekman and James Rothman.

Südhof, a native of Germany, obtained his MD from the University of Göttingen and conducted his postdoctoral training in the department of molecular genetics at the University of Texas’s Health Science Center. During his postdoctoral training, he worked on describing the role of the LDL receptor in cholesterol metabolism, for which Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985.


Another example from the site includes Dr. Craig Mello (Craig C. Mello’s Home Page.) who, along with Dr., Andrew Fire discovered RNAi when both at Carnegie Institute. Both received a Nobel for their work.

So again would love to hear and curate personal stories highlighting how postdocs make a great contribution to US science.

More articles in this “Heroes in Medical Research” series and posts on Scientific Careers from this site include:

Heroes in Medical Research: Green Fluorescent Protein and the Rough Road in Science

Heroes in Medical Research: Developing Models for Cancer Research

Heroes in Medical Research: Dr. Carmine Paul Bianchi Pharmacologist, Leader, and Mentor

Heroes in Medical Research: Dr. Robert Ting, Ph.D. and Retrovirus in AIDS and Cancer

Heroes in Medical Research: Barnett Rosenberg and the Discovery of Cisplatin

Science Budget FY’14: Stakeholders’ Reactions on Selective Budget Drops and Priorities Shift

Careers for Researchers Beyond Academia


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A P(hD)aradox

Author: Ziv Raviv, PhD


The educative and manpower training method in natural sciences faculties in their essence are unique among the other academics units. The fundamental differences lie in the fact that research in natural science is extremely expensive, extensive, time consuming, and requires a team effort within the research group and cooperation between research laboratories. The reasons for natural science research being so expensive start from high costly equipment, tremendous expensive costs of research materials (particularly in life science and medical research but not restricted to these fields), and as a direct derivative from the very nature of such research, the costs of training personal. As a research student, all along the way, one is usually being paid by a stipend that should be sufficient to cover the costs of living, giving the research student the “industrial peace” needed to be focused on his/her laboratory studies efforts. Some of the money for scholarship comes from institutional built-in funding mechanisms while other could come from training-directed governmental or privet funds, or directly from PI research grants. This money is very supportive to the research student; however, it is given usually without any social benefits. This way, a PhD student that is rolling in the system, going on further with post-doc studies, could found himself losing about 10 years of social benefits rights that he could have accumulate otherwise. Moreover, upon termination of training period as a PhD or post-doc, one has no guarantee for getting a job. That is since the different universities and research institutes are recruiting only a very limited amount of new PIs, and positions such as research associates and lab managers are not so common and usually are only partially funded by the research institute/university while the rest is funded by PIs own research grants which are not a stable source for salary (at least in the EU and Israel, where the author of these lines comes from). Those facts leave PhD scientists with very limited choices working in the academy.  On the other hand, given the restricted academic-directed training that had been given to the PhD student, one has limited tools and chances to be integrated in the industry. This creates a tremendous crisis for the PhD researcher’s career that found himself in an advanced stage of his life without a real dissent career choice and with no social benefits, forcing him to make decisions of alternate careers pathways and directions that not always fit and justify the tremendous efforts and investments he and the system had made thus far. Yes, life sometimes is not fair, however, a systematic drastic changed should arise in order to recompense an average PhD researcher on his unlimited effort he made. The current situation is very cynical. One is working very hard trying the best to publish well and go on further in the academic scale, but if not succeeds (and to be honest, how many of post-docs are really successive?), many PhD scientists find themselves without any further actual career choice, discovering that they are overqualified to the few jobs around.  So, the academic system that relies on the manpower of PhD students and post-docs, where there is no doubt regarding to their crucial role in carrying the scientific research efforts on their back, is not supporting a PhD scientist beyond his training period. I am not getting into the point of young PIs difficulty of recruiting money, although it is part of the problem. For this matter please see the article by Lawrence PA [1].

Thus, what are the optional solutions for this unfortunate condition? No easy resolutions and no guaranties that the following suggestions will actually work. The first one would be more governmental funding for research combined with restricting the amount of research laboratories in each university and research institute. The rational is that most of the laboratories are competing on the same pool of grants available, therefore increasing funding in on hand while decreasing the number of research labs on the other hand will be resulted in a grater probability for a single laboratory to obtain grants and to be able to fund its research students.  In addition, the research institutes and universities must include at least a minimal built-in social benefits package to research students, and that is without affecting the salary value i.e., because a scholarship in this avenue is similar to a salary and IRS rules would be applied, as a consequence that could decrease the net sum being finally reaching the student pocket. Therefore, there is a need to increase the gross being paid. However, this is costly, thus a governmental intervention and assistance is needed in this case as well. In order it to succeed, for every laboratory there will be a limited and restricted number of master, PhD, and post-doc researchers to be allowed. A laboratory that has an excess funding from privet funds would be allowed to hire more students yet will have to follow the rules mentioned above. All of the above should give result to stopping the current absurd condition of training too many PhDs and consequently will prevent many of them from being facing a severe situation upon graduation and post-doc training termination.

The second point would be increasing the amount of research associate/lab manager positions in the laboratories within the academy, maybe even as a mandatory policy. This position should be funded by the institute and by governmental money. The advantage of hiring a PhD level research associate is priceless. Such personal comes with excess of experience and knowledge in conducting scientific research with all that entails, giving a strong contribution to the research lab and a close assistance to the lab PI. Such stable position of a research associate together with that of a lab technician would establish a firm core for the laboratory existence and operation.

The third issue would be increasing the portion of industry-directed academic research. This would be achieved by developing specific educative programs directed to the privet market needs. There are too many occasions where a PhD scientist encountered the almost sealed wall of “experience in the industry”. Industrial R&D is different from academic in some very core issues yet at the same time relays on solid scientific basic academic research and manpower. Educative programs in universities for shifting from pure academic/scientific research toward industrial directed research should be developed. These programs should include courses in economics, business and market regulations. This definitely will allow the opening of new avenues for PhD researchers. The realization of such programs could be achieved for example by doing a post-doc training at the industry, however, to date only few companies are having such programs pointing that the industry should be involved directly in such means. As for all of the above solutions, here as well, a governmental support for such programs should be taken in consideration.

The governmental interest of supporting these three solutions is evident. A government that invests so much money in one’s education should perform a tremendous effort to keep this individual under its mandatory; otherwise, the “brain drain” outside of a certain country would not be stopped. It should be an interest of governmental establishment to keep and preserve such talented personal. Surly academic and industry are not alike and the very essence of science is international cooperation, nevertheless, a nation should invest more in “excellence centers” to try and keep its human recourses within its arms.


1. Lawrence PA (2009) Real lives and white lies in the funding of scientific research: the granting system turns young scientists into bureaucrats and then betrays them. PLoS Biol 7 (9):e1000197

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Reporter: Larry Bernstein, MD

Bioinformatics  refers to the creation and maintenance of a database to store biological information such as nucleotide sequences and amino acid sequences. Development of this type of database involved not only design issues but the development of complex interfaces whereby researchers could access existing data as well as submit new or revised data.

In order to study how normal cellular activities are altered in different disease states, the biological data must be combined to form a comprehensive picture of these activities. Therefore, the field of bioinformatics This includes nucleotide and amino acid sequences, protein domains, and protein structures. The actual process of analyzing and interpreting data is referred to as computational biology.

The primary goal of bioinformatics is to increase the understanding of biological processes. What sets it apart from other approaches, however, is its focus on developing and applying computationally intensive techniques to achieve this goal.

Bioinformatics elements for NGS data analysis

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Viale Morgagni 40, Firenze
Inscription Deadline: 3 November 2012

The high level training in “Bioinformatics for NGS data analysis” is oriented for students and PhD students in mathematics, physics, natural science, medicine, biotechnology, pharmacy and ingenering as well as employees of public institutions, industry and university researchers interested in problems of NGS bioinformatics.

The primary object of the course is to introduce the participants to the basic theory and the technical knowledge of NGS data analysis for the identification of single nucleotide polymorphism, insertion/deletion, genomic variants and for the study of gene expression.

The course will span four days structured in seminars and hands-on sessions at the computer given by docents and professionals.

For more information visit: http://sites.google.com/site/corsobioinformatica/
e-mai: corsobioinformatica@gmail.com
telephone: (+39) 055 7949036


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