Career-transition planning for postdocs

9/22/2017 1:48:18 PM

This week marked the eighth annual National Postdoc Appreciation Week to celebrate the important contributions postdocs make to research and innovation in the U.S. Around the country, institutions showed their appreciation for postdocs with social events, research symposia and career workshops.  

Here at the ASBMB, we love postdocs year-round and offer a number of postdoc training opportunities, awards and career resources to support your professional development. In fact, next we’ll have a great membership deal that will make joining the ASBMB and the National Postdoctoral Association even more affordable than usual. (We’re switching to a new membership-information system this week, so check back.)

Postdocs are the powerhouses of research productivity, and they play a significant role in training the next generation of scientists under them. Postdocs make amazing mentors because they offer experience but still are close enough to the nuances (and frustrations) associated with bench work.

We know that postdocs often are underappreciated and overworked. You can read more about the “plight of postdocs” elsewhere. While ice-cream socials and free barbecue are a nice touch (and a much needed break from the lab), institutions and postdoc supervisors can best show appreciation for postdocs by continuing to work toward fair compensation and benefits, and championing for the career advancement of their postdoctoral mentees.

Some would argue (and perhaps rightfully so) that you don’t need to do a postdoc in the first place, especially for industry or nonacademic career paths, but this a moot point if you’re already in a postdoc. And the fact remains: If you want a career in academia, then postdoctoral experience likely will be required.

My job here is not to deter you from your career goals but to instead encourage you to be proactive about your career development and connect you with the resources needed to successfully transition to life after the postdoc. After you have enjoyed some much-deserved R&R this week, take some time to really appreciate yourself by doing a little career planning.

Here are a few suggestions on how to spend that time.

Assess where you are in your postdoc track.

This fall semester would be a good time to recognize what you have accomplished so far and what you need to do to transition out of the postdoc. One useful exercise is to explore what types of jobs are open, even if you’re not on the job market yet, to see what piques your interest. You can look at the job-qualifications section to assess what other experience and skills you may need to focus on for the rest of your postdoc period. Also, print out a few ideal job postings and add them to your career-planning file as a good reminder of your goals.  

You can use this information to update your professional-development plan and review with your supervisor or other mentors. Hopefully you already have started one of these plans, as required by your institution or a granting agency. If not, you can find a number of plan templates online via postdoc associations or try out the myIDP hosted by Science Careers. For example, I found a number of incredibly useful training and development resources, including a career-transition planning checklist on the Argonne National Laboratory’s Postdoctoral Office website. 

Stay updated on funding news.

It’s always a good idea to stay updated on science-policy news to identify trends in the research-funding landscape, upcoming funding opportunities and places that may be hiring soon. Most scientific societies publish government-funding information, including the ASBMB Policy Blotter and the American Institute of Physics’ FYI: Science Policy News. You also can subscribe to foundation news (e.g., Philanthropy News Digest) and get email notifications about federal grants from

Also check with the sponsored programs or other research-development offices at your home institution or alma mater for upcoming grant-writing workshops. These workshops not only provide useful tips on preparing grant applications but also updates on trends in what individual agencies are funding. Resources (e.g., presentation slides) also may be available on their respective websites. For example, The Ohio State University’s Office of Research website has a number of online trainings posted.  

Outline research projects.

I have done a little pro bono career coaching with postdoc friends in the past, and I was surprised they did not have a working draft of any future research ideas or plans. No matter how early in your postdoc you may be, start a project-idea file and allocate time each week to work on related literature searches and writing a mock proposal. Even if you are transitioning out of academia, a similar activity can help identify what areas of science interest you most and to formulate potential business concepts, story ideas for science-communications work, etc.
It also may be time to have that long-overdue conversation with your supervisor on whether you will be able to take any part of your research project with you, if you are applying for academic jobs. If that’s not an option, it’s especially important to be planning a future research program in advance and reaching out to form collaborations.

Apply for career-transition fellowships and grants.

Securing a fellowship or grant demonstrates your capability to formulate a clear research plan and the potential to bring in funds in a future research position. Especially useful (and attractive to employers) are fellowships and grants that provide career-transition support, such as funding that can be carried over from a postdoctoral position to an academic appointment.

In my mind, I also consider other types of fellowships as a career-transition program — that is, they prepare you for a specific career path with advanced skills and training, not just a replicate of your Ph.D. program. Here are a few biomedical-related fellowship and grant opportunities that I ran across this week on my Twitter feed and from a few web searches.

  • The National Institutes of Health offers several types of career-development grants (e.g., K22, K99/R00) to support the transition of postdoc to independent researcher. Such grants fund projects in two phases: during the postdoc appointment and then upon successful transition to a tenure-track or equivalent faculty position. You can visit the “Research Career Development Awards” page to filter through programs and view current funding opportunities. Standard due dates for new K-series submissions are Oct. 12, Feb. 12 and June 12.
  • The Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently announced the first cohort of the Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program aimed at increasing diversity in academic science. Fellows are financially supported for eight years from postdoc through the first years of a tenure-track faculty position. Applications are being accepted through Jan. 10 for the next competition round.  
  • The Mayo Clinic runs a Clinical Microbiology Fellowship program designed to train post-Ph.D. and M.D. scientists to be directors of clinical-microbiology laboratories. The program includes both clinical components and management training. The application deadline is Dec. 31. It also offers a number of similar post-graduate fellowships for other specialties within the clinical and medical-technology fields.  
  • The Burroughs Wellcome Fund offers several postdoctoral fellowships, including the Career Awards for Medical Scientists and Career Awards at the Scientific Interface. Both programs bridge the funding gap between postdoctoral appointment and the early years of an academic faculty position. The CASM is designed for physician-scientists working in biomedical, disease-oriented or translational research areas, and applications are due Oct. 3. The deadline for the CASI has passed for this year.
  • A number of disease-oriented nonprofits also fund postdoctoral fellowships with options for career-transition funding to an academic appointment. Such organizations include the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. While the deadlines have passed for this year for those two, you can investigate options offered by other foundations and start a calendar of application deadlines for next year.

In the end, I’m not a postdoc and never will be one, so seek out advice from peers who have faced similar career decisions. It’s important to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment below or on social media with any career tips and resources for other postdocs.  


Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (  

ASBMB careers blogger 2.0

9/15/2017 11:23:47 AM

I am excited to join the communications team at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as the newest careers blogger. Each week, I will be bringing you updated job postings, training opportunities and honest career advice across the full spectrum of science careers.

I’ll have some big (closed-toe and heel, lab-appropriate) shoes to fill after all the great content provided by past careers blogger Diedre Ribbens over the years. As a sneak peek, I am looking forward to featuring Diedre in an upcoming post about her technical-communications career in the medical-device industry (stay tuned).

Also thanks to Angela Hopp (ASBMB communications director) for filling in these past weeks. If you haven’t checked out her recent posts like science jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, you definitely should catch up on this useful advice.

And I want to hear from you, too. Feel free to comment below, email me or reach out on Twitter (@science_mentor) to share cool jobs you find, additional career tips and topics you would like to see featured here.    

Building a Portfolio Career in Science Communications

This week the focus is on science communications, considering I am a little partial to this career route. My transition from working in a research institution to a freelance career was fueled by the need to have a flexible work schedule and my interest in helping scientists share their work with a broader audience. In particular, science communications is an ideal career route for any other science generalists out there who get bored easily and enjoy the challenge of mastering new areas of science.  

Science communications is a broad term that encompasses developing content in a variety of formats (e.g., articles, videos, graphics) to relay scientific information to a target audience (e.g., general public, other scientists, customers). Many companies and institutions do not have the budget for a dedicated communications team, so often this work is contracted out to freelancers who can provide the needed services.

Freelancing is an example of a portfolio career—a collection of part-time jobs with different clients and varying projects. The benefits are many with more autonomy, creative expression and work flexibility, but it also requires a great deal of self-management. Freelancing also makes a good side gig, which is a reasonable route to take and see if you like it (just make sure you check with your institution on whether you need to declare any conflicts of interest).

Seasoned freelancers may focus on a niche market over time. But if you’re just starting out, I suggest taking on a variety of projects to round out your portfolio and explore what services you can best provide. Examples of recent projects I have worked on include writing newsletter articles, foundation grants, issue briefs and communication plans.  

Most of my business has come from referrals (yes, networking pays off) or from people running across my portfolio website. If you are interested in science writing, a portfolio with published clips (typically three) often is needed to apply for jobs and internships and to join professional writing groups.

So naturally, one of the top questions I get asked is how to build a portfolio. First look at the work you have done so far. Any communication products like technical abstracts, research highlights and science outreach materials may be relevant depending on the type of work you are seeking.

If you are associated with an institution, try reaching out to the public-relations department to help write press releases. Or, let your PI know that you are interested in gaining more experience and volunteer to assist with grant proposals, reports or other projects. More than likely, they will be happy to have some support.

While freelancing certainly shouldn’t be free, you may need to volunteer to write for a professional society, industry/trade publications or other outlets to get started. For me, I got my writing clips by volunteering to write for the ASBMB Today magazine. My first published piece on “How to Compete with a Lab Diva” was a morale booster for sure.

There are other benefits, even if not paid, if you can find a good editor to help fine-tune your writing skills. Angela Hopp of the ASBMB took the time to be a proactive editor and taught me so much (and I’m not just saying that to get brownie points). And now, that volunteer opportunity has led to this amazing (and paid) careers blog gig.

Here are a few other ideas on gaining experience through training programs. I have plenty of other ideas in my head, so feel free to reach out or also check out this blog post on the topic of writing in the sciences. Comment below with any other opportunities you know about. Thanks!

Internships and Fellowships

You might consider participating in a science-communications internship or fellowship to gain experience and sample projects to buff up your résumé. Fortunately, most of these positions are paid decently (and I highly advise against taking an unpaid internship). Here are a few opportunities that I saw posted this week.
  • The American Society for Microbiology is hiring a public outreach fellow to assist the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., with developing an exhibit on viral zoonoses called “Outbreak, Epidemics in a Connected World.” The position requires a master’s degree in the life sciences at a minimum (Ph.D. preferred) with volunteer or paid science education experience. Applications are due Oct. 2, but the position is to be filled a.s.a.p. H/t to Erica Siebrasse (@ericasieb) for sharing this awesome opportunity on Twitter!  
  • The Open Notebook is accepting applications for its Early-Career Fellowship Program in partnership with the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. During an eight-month period, fellows work with mentors to publish a series of stories focused on the craft of science writing and features of science journalists. This program sounds like a good way to learn what the art of science writing is all about. Applicants must have less than two years of professional writing experience but demonstrate strong potential. The fellowship is completed remotely and pays a stipend. Applications are due Oct. 15.   
  • The environmental-news outlet Ensia has established the Ensia Mentor Program that pairs up aspiring environmental-science writers with experienced mentors to develop articles for potential publication. Both mentors and mentees receive stipends for their work. Applicants submit story ideas or multimedia ideas on the website for consideration, and there is no deadline listed.  
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science takes applications for its paid Science News Writing Internship program on a rolling basis. Interns work for six months with newsroom staff to develop stories for both Science's daily online news site and Science Magazine. Preference is for applicants who have science backgrounds. Applicants should be at least college seniors or hold bachelor’s degrees. Applications should be submitted two months before the internship period. (See posting for dates.)


Certificate Programs and Courses

Another good way to get experience in science communications is through formal and informal training programs. Most courses and other trainings culminate in final projects that can be added to your portfolio or serve as drafts for publishing in paid outlets. Here are a few upcoming training opportunities and other resources to check out.  
  • The ASBMB is running an online session of its “Art of Science Communications” course in October of this year. During the eight-week course, participants learn the fundamentals of communicating complex scientific information to a nontechnical audience with an emphasis on presentations. The course is $25 for ASBMB members (and you can join the ASBMB here!). Applications are due Sept. 25.  
  • There are a number of free, online courses available through MOOC platforms like Coursera. One course that I highly recommend (and have completed) is “Writing in the Sciences” taught by Kristin Sainani of Stanford University. The course teaches participants how to write more effectively for both technical and general audiences. The next session starts Oct. 2 and runs for eight weeks with an estimated time commitment of three to five hours a week.  
  • The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas offers a wide range of online courses on data visualization, investigative reporting and more. The next course is “Crafting Data Stories” and starts Sept. 18, for six weeks. Participants will learn how to use a dataset to tell a story for the public.   
  • Also check with your local university or community college to see what certificate programs or other science-communication courses are offered through the journalism and other departments. I completed a grant-writing certificate program through the professional development (noncredit) center at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, which even led to paid work from an instructor who referred me for a contract.    

Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (            


Jobs in the D.C. region

9/8/2017 11:18:50 AM

While there are plenty of D.C. haters from coast to coast, the truth is that the metropolitan region has a lot to offer in terms of employment, culture and entertainment.

D.C. is, obviously, home to many government agencies that require scientific expertise. It’s also home to many educational institutions, nonprofits and biotech companies that need high-skilled employees.

If you’ve never considered living in or near the nation’s capital, just imagine being able to run down to Capitol Hill to attend a hearing that interests you, showing off your clever sign-making skills in a sea of demonstrators at the gates of the White House, enjoying Ethiopian cuisine, or attending the Kennedy Center Honors in person.

Take it from this transplanted Texan: What D.C. lacks in terms of Mexican food, fashion-forwardness and affordable housing it makes up for with four distinct (but not extreme) seasons, lovely parklands and trails, free Smithsonian museums and galleries, and architecturally charming neighborhoods and shopping districts.

Here is a sampling of jobs in the region.

Science jobs

AstraZeneca (locations worldwide) has more than 200 openings at its Gaithersburg, Md., location. Many of them are business-focused positions (marketing and financial). But there are plenty of research positions, including some at Medimmune.

The Carnegie Institution for Science’s headquarters is in D.C., but it has labs in Baltimore (near Johns Hopkins University) and at other locations in the U.S. Here are the most relevant D.C.-area openings:

  • Postdoc for Steven Farber’s lab in the Department of Embryology.
  • Another postdoc in the Department of Embryology.
  • Investigator, which is the equivalent of an assistant professor, in the Department of Embryology.
  • Staff associate to “pursue highly original and innovative biological research” in the Department of Embryology

The J. Craig Venter Institute (Rockville, Md., and La Jolla, Calif.) frequently has a dozen or more openings. Today, it has half a dozen science-related positions available in the D.C. area, including two synthetic biology research associate openings, two synthetic biology postdoc positions, an infectious diseases postdoc position and a genomic medicine postdoc position. See all the postings. Also, the institute has an internship program.

NantOmics (locations nationwide) is one of several companies under the umbrella of NantWorks. Here’s how NantOmics describes itself: “Combining DNA sequencing, RNA sequencing, and quantitative proteomics, NantOmics offers extensive testing capabilities that provide a comprehensive molecular profile of a patient’s cancer. Our proprietary analytical platform delivers molecular diagnostic capabilities that provide actionable intelligence and molecularly driven decision support for cancer patients and their providers at the point of care.” The Rockville, Md., location has the following openings:

REGENEXBIO (Rockville, Md.) is a clinical-stage biotechnology company that focuses on gene therapy. It has three R&D openings now:

Salubris Biotherapeutics (Gaithersburg, Md.) is advertising on Indeed an opening for a “scientist/senior scientist/principal scientist — analytical — mass spec.” I could not find a website for this biotech company. I did find this press release for a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this year at the company’s new R&D lab.


Jobs away from the bench

If you’re looking for a position in the policy/lobbying/cause arena, start by checking out the DC Public Affairs + Communications Jobs blog, which (full disclosure) was the inspiration for our jobs blog.

If you’re thinking about working for an association – like the ASBMB – start at the job board by the American Society of Association Executives. (Yes, it’s an association for association people. There’s an association for everything in D.C.)

Want to be a part of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology family? Check out the FASEB human resources page. It has posts from all the scientific societies under the FASEB umbrella. This is not to be confused with FASEB’s job board, which also is a good resource but not region- or association-specific.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is seeking an experienced STEM educator to train teachers involved in the institution’s high-school outreach programs.

Gryphon Scientific (Takoma Park, Md.) is a consulting company hiring research assistants with bachelor’s degrees in the life sciences. Here’s an excerpt: “As a Gryphon (research assistant), you will participate in projects focused on public safety, homeland security and emerging infectious disease. Most projects require analysis of publications in professional journals with the goal of extracting and summarizing relevant information.” The listing emphasizes that research assistants will use analytical and quantitative skills – but will do no bench work.


Federal jobs

Finally, if you wish to work as a scientist or other professional for the federal government (and have the patience for enduring a long application process), visit

Angela Hopp is ASBMB’s communications director and ASBMB Today’s executive editor. Follow her on Twitter.

Looking for more jobs posts or for other tips on how to search for jobs? Check out the additional posts by searching your area of interest or geography on the ASBMB Careers Blog. As always, we’d love to hear your feedback or suggestions. Leave a comment or reach out to ASBMB on Twitter or Facebook!