Based on their experience

In January, Crossroads hosted two professional development events featuring Stowers alumni as guest speakers. The informal talks provided current postdoctoral researchers with insightful information on the do’s and don’ts as they prepare to navigate the scientific job market.

Former Stowers postdocs and current assistant professors Lisa Sandell, PhD, (University of Louisville), Vikki Weake, PhD, (Purdue University), and Erika Geisbrecht, PhD, (University of Missouri-Kansas City), distilled their firsthand experiences into three nuggets of advice for young scientists pursuing an academic career: apply for external funding, focus on developing a full body of work, and gain teaching experience. All agreed that completing a grant application as a postdoc, even if it goes unfunded, provides invaluable experience since most academic positions require some sort of competitive funding. Geisbrecht strongly believes that showing you have previously maneuvered the grant process can give a candidate’s application an edge.

In addition, while a paper published in a top-tier journal may be what researchers strive for, these alumni believe it is more important to develop a body of work that shows a breadth of knowledge and skills, even if it means publishing in lower-impact journals.

Finally, each encouraged Stowers postdocs to take advantage of opportunities to learn and practice teaching skills. “Most academic positions require some level of teaching responsibility, and it is vital to be able to communicate information and skills to the next generation of young researchers,” emphasized Weake.

The second event featured three alumni who successfully pursued careers outside academia: staff scientists Justin Grindley, PhD, (Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) and Brian Sanderson, PhD, (Ambion), and technology innovation and development expert Christof Bausch, PhD, (POET, Kieon Group, and Nanopore Technologies). Advice from the industry professionals focused on taking advantage of summer internships and fellowships as an opportunity to showcase  talents, considering the use of a professional search firm, and never underestimating the power of networking.

In the panelists’ experience, the adage that ”sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know” should not be discounted. After many failed attempts at securing an interview via an online application system, Sanderson forwarded his interest and qualifications to an acquaintance within the company. By the next day he had an interview scheduled. Bausch went even further, “The key to a great position for me was the networking skills of a hired agent.” He explained that the agent’s established connections and knowledge of the industry simply proved to be more powerful than his own.