This is a series of brief articles dedicated to several aspects of how a foreign researcher can plan a successful postdoctoral practice in the United States. I made this transition several years ago—moving from Spain to Maryland very first, and then lodging in Alabama—and over the years I have guided other foreign researchers through this process, so some of my comments and suggestions are based on my private practice.
There are many different reasons why a foreign researcher looks for a postdoc in the United States, but regardless of the specific professional and/or individual reasons that guide your decision, it is very significant to have a plan of act.
When do you commence looking?
This is a question that I am asked very often by graduate students (foreign and “local”), and I generally recommend to begin looking at least one year before your expected graduation. There are many things to consider during the search for a postdoc position; thus, one year is the naked minimum that I would recommend for any foreign researcher.
Planning, planning, and more planning
Before embarking your search, it is significant that you identify your goals and your work environment preferences. These are very significant considerations when you are thinking about moving abroad, which requires immigration paperwork and stringent processes that may not be limber enough as to permit you to “jump” from one position to another. Thus, very first you will have to determine what your goals are. Is your objective returning to your home country after the postdoc to take an academic position that requires practice abroad? Do you want to begin an academic research career in the US? Would you like to have the chance to interact with industry researchers? Even however you cannot control every single aspect of this process, it is significant to have a “roadmap.” Like for research projects, the key to success is having a clear plan.
Once you have a roadmap, the next step is looking for suitable postdoctoral positions that permit you to contribute with your current skill, and at the same time, go after your roadmap. A fairly common but not advisable way of looking for postdoc positions is just going wherever your mentor “knows somebody.” You should not discard this option if your mentor has good connections with reputable laboratories; however, you should also do your own search. In the end, it is your private and academic future, and not your mentor’s, that is at stake.
Commence your own “research network” early on by keeping in touch with senior research students who have graduated and moved abroad. If possible, attempt to participate in international conferences. Some organizations have travel fellowships for students and fellowships of this type are a good “add-on” to your resume too. Fortunately, international conferences and research networks are not your only avenues to find a good postdoc position these days. In the next article of my series, I will discuss how to effectively use the internet to identify a suitable postdoc position, including finding information about specific laboratories, their research topics, funding sources, and laboratory environment, before you make a decision.
Observe out for the next article in the series.