Biophysical Society Bulletin | December 2019

Career Development

How to Hire an International Postdoc for a US Position As the head of a laboratory, hiring a new team member is always exciting and rewarding, but also challenging. As soon as a new faculty member starts an independent laboratory or estab- lished faculty obtain new funds, it is tempting to recruit new team members immediately. A postdoctoral fellow is a well-trained researcher who is looking to gain additional skills and experience and it is not always easy to find the applicants to them. It is equally challenging for foreign-trained researchers to find appropriate postdoctoral positions. Some of the good postdoctoral applicants from other countries are generally referred by colleagues. These days most of the scientific conferences such as Biophysical Society’s Annual Meeting reserve a place where one can advertise for potential candidates. Attendees pay attention to such job boards and it is always a good idea to publish your position at conferences. These advertisements are usually free to post and attract researchers with skillsets within the meeting theme.

Once the position is well advertised, the next step is to sort out incoming applications. Some of the applications might land in a spam folder and it is a good idea to check this folder regularly. When sorting applications start with the cover letter or email; if it is a general email without pointing to any research focus in the laboratory, it is not worth paying much attention to since the candidate might not be particularly in- terested in the laboratory’s work. The next step is to evaluate the curriculum vitae. In addition to publication records and skills training, it is important to find out about the institute where the applicant was trained. It may be a good idea to talk with colleagues who are familiar with a specific country or institute. A good research environment provides better training as compared to an institute with limited resources and inadequate research environment. Postdoctoral fellows are expected to execute projects from the beginning all the way to end and if they are not trained to manage projects, it will be challenging for an investigator to train them and it may consume resources and time. Some countries have centralized exams to obtain admissions into reputed gradu- ate schools, and it is appropriate to find out in the curriculum vitae whether the candidate has passed these highly compet- itive exams. Once again this additional evidence will increase your confidence in the applicant and his or her academic rigor and achievements. Once an applicant is short-listed, the next step is to read through the references carefully. This is a crucial step for lab heads. Asking for references on email is a norm but it is feasible to reach out by phone or Internet-mediated commu- nication. Communication over the phone is better than email as it is a human tendency to reveal details in person that they might not be comfortable putting in writing. As a candidate seeking a position, it is adviseable to provide guidance to individuals who are writing letters of recom- mendation so that they can comment on the specific things you want to highlight. Many recommenders list the candi- date’s accomplishments in research, which takes a significant portion of the letter, and adds very little to what is already in the CV and the cover letter. Recommendation letters should

right person. The postdoc requires good mentorship and a long commitment on the part of the faculty to develop and support a fellow to help them land the next job. So, it is crucial that the faculty member not only screens for qualities and skills that address their immediate needs, but also that they screen for the qualities that make it more likely that this indi- vidual will become an independent investigator. The challenge of selecting the best candidate is not limited to new faculty members, but is also encountered by established investiga- tors. Hiring a wrong fit can be detrimental to the progress of projects and eventually a faculty member’s career. In this scientific era, the majority of the postdoctoral fellows are trained outside the United States, and scientific fervor has no national or cultural boundaries. While it is easier to evaluate a person from a similar training background and environment, it takes a lot to best judge a foreign-trained researcher. The key to successfully hiring a foreign postdoc is to properly vet all applicants and choose a few best fits for interviews. The interview process begins with an initial con- tact, which could either be in person at a scientific meeting, a visit, or an email. References should be thoroughly checked and then finally the candidate is interviewed either in person or via Internet video links. Marcela Hernandez , Administrative Director and Noah Weisleder , Faculty Director, from the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at the Ohio State University, strongly recommend making a list of the qualities and skills that the faculty is looking for and creating a rubric that will enable faculty to score both the written application materials as well as the interview. All those who participate in the interview process should have access to the rubric and provide scores. Almost every established investigator receives several un- solicited emails each week from potential candidates around the world. But new investigators will only receive a handful of good applications. The key for new investigators is to adver- tise positions in relevant job boards and on platforms within their own scientific community. This will keep applications limited to a selective pool of applicants. However, the best resource for new investigators is to ask former mentors, col- leagues, within and outside the institute, to direct promising

December 2019



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