Being a Postdoc (Sometimes): My Career Under The Microscope


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Being a Postdoc (Sometimes): My Career Under The Microscope

  1. 1. Being a Postdoc (Sometimes): My Career Under the Microscope Jonathan Howe Image from
  2. 2. Oct 2002 Feb 2013 Career Development Fellow (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology) Career Timeline Images from,, and Medical Biochemistry BSc (University of Leicester) Vacation Scholarship 3 Years Biochemistry PhD: “The Role of Tensin in Cell Migration and Fibronectin Fibrillogenesis.” (University of Leicester) 4 Years Senior Research Associate (University of East Anglia) 2 Years
  3. 3. MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology “The MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) is a world-class research laboratory, dedicated to understanding important biological processes at the molecular level - with the goal of using this knowledge to tackle major problems in human health and disease.” - LMB website • 9 Nobel Prizes. • Key role in the development of several techniques: DNA sequencing, protein structure determination and monoclonal antibody production. • £330M commercial income generated through technology transfer.
  4. 4. Job Title - MRC Career Development Fellow • NOT a career development award i.e. I’m not starting my own research group. • Essentially I’m a postdoc (postdoctoral researcher/scientist) AKA postdoctoral research fellow AKA postdoctoral research associate/assistant AKA (senior) research associate! • Read papers, plan and carry out experiments, and then analyse data. • Keep a record of research e.g. lab book, digital data. • Communicate research to others e.g. lab talks, seminars, posters, conferences. • Supervise students (both undergrads and postgrads) in the lab. • Teaching e.g. tutorials. • Publish research! • Write/apply for grants - In general postdoc contracts are a maximum of 3 years long.
  5. 5. Why Did I Say in my Title that I was a Postdoc (Sometimes)? • I also help to run a light microscopy facility. • Train users in advanced light microscopy techniques. • Maintain/fix/modify microscopes. • Test microscopes we are thinking of purchasing. • Give lectures on microscopy techniques. Image from Image from Zeiss Website
  6. 6. Image from Zeiss Website Spatial Resolution of Biological Imaging Techniques
  7. 7. Single Molecule Localisation Microscopy (SMLM) Zemer Gitai, Current Opinion in Microbiology, 2009 Image Modified from Micron Oxford Website
  8. 8. Single Molecule Localisation Microscopy (SMLM)
  9. 9. Postdoc Career Prospects • Become an independent researcher/group leader: ‒ Highly competitive - You need to have a strong publication record! ‒ If you’re in a university then you will probably be expected to do some teaching e.g. lectures, lab practicals, tutorials, marking. ‒ Teaching commitments, grant applications and paper writing will likely mean you have less time to spend working at the bench. ‒ Opportunity to develop managerial skills. • Remain a postdoc: ‒ Still need to have a good publication record. ‒ Fixed-term contracts. ‒ Job security?! Good or bad, depending on how you look at it! ‒ Some research institutes have a limited number of permanent postdoc positions. • Specialise in a particular technique and work within an internal support facility. • Move into industry - More money but less opportunity to shape your research. • Teaching/lecturing. • Leave scientific research and use the transferable skills you have acquired elsewhere.
  10. 10. How do I Become a Biological Sciences Postdoc?
  11. 11. Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree • Gain lab experience: ‒ In your 3rd year do a lab project rather than library project. ‒ Vacation scholarships - ‒ Summer work. ‒ Industrial placement (sandwich). • Consider doing a masters, which is a bit like a mini PhD (test the water). However, if you get a 2.1 or a 1st class undergrad degree then you can go straight on to do a PhD. • If you don’t enjoy lab work then do not proceed to step 2.
  12. 12. Step 2: Get a PhD • What research topics interest you and what PhD positions are available? - • Where do you want to do your PhD? UK or abroad, university or research institute? Visit labs and talk to lab members. High research output? • Attend interview for studentship, which normally covers tuition fees, stipend (salary), travel money and maybe research money. • Read papers, plan and carry out experiments, and then analyse data. Lab demonstrator. • Present data in posters and seminars (both within institute/university and at conferences). • Publish results in papers. • Write thesis (introduction, methods, results, discussion and conclusion) – Defend in viva. • Hard work (not a 9 to 5) - But if you enjoy your research then you won’t mind! • Continually aim to develop transferable skills and learn lots of lab techniques – this is what makes you employable! -
  13. 13. Thanks for Listening - Any Questions?