Biophysical Society Bulletin | December 2019

Career Development

discuss the candidate’s soft skills and the quality of execution. Some senior investigators also ask for a source of funding for the PhD project as many countries have competitive schol- arships for graduate students. Usually, these scholarships are obtained by highly competitive and academically capable students. It is totally appropriate to ask references some open-ended questions such as, “Would you comment on the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, collegiality and team- work, future aspirations, significant contribution to the project, independence, and ability to handle difficult situations such as tight deadlines.” “Would you hire this candidate as a postdoc- toral fellow.” It is not uncommon for candidates to avoid a let- ter from a PhD advisor and that itself is a warning sign. How- ever, one should hear both sides of the story as sometimes applicants do run into genuine problems with their advisors. In such a case, it can be important to communicate with other referees to obtain a better evaluation of the candidate. Communication limitation is another factor for foreign grad- uates and one should enquire about the written and oral communication abilities of candidates from their mentors. The visa process in some countries, such as the United States, may require evidence of English language understanding, there- fore one should consider this a standard question. A postdoc who cannot write and give oral presentations well will have a competitive disadvantage. A faculty member who speaks a foreign language that allows him or her to communicate with the postdoc in his or her native language may alleviate communication issues, but this would not be helping a post- doc who aspires to have a career in the United States or other countries where they are expected to write and speak English well. Helping postdocs with advanced English as a second language training, such as that promoted by the international postdoctoral office at the host university, should be a compo- nent of the training plan for all foreign postdocs whose native language is not English. Evaluation of English language skills might be done by an English as a second language profession- al who can advise the faculty member on what training would be recommended to get the postdoc to the level they need for an academic job. When it is time to talk to the candidate over the phone or on video links, it is good to describe your research and gauge if the candidate is showing any interest or asking interesting questions. A good practice is to invite the applicant to spend

a day in the lab, give a scientific seminar, interact with lab members, and meet other colleagues in the department. This is sometimes not possible for overseas candidates. Some senior researchers request that colleagues conduct interviews and also ask their lab members to interact with the potential candidate over video chat. A lab is like a close-knit family and input from other colleagues and lab members can certainly help to identify a future team player. In personal interviews, you can ask questions such as “What would you do next in the given project,” and “Describe the key findings from published papers or abstracts.” If an applicant just mentions techniques they performed for a particular manuscript, it shows their lack of interest in the project and scientific curiosity. The final decision about a candidate involves multiple factors such as scientific aspirations, training, capabilities, and curios- ity. However, one of the most important traits is personality. Since each lab has its own working style and scientific iden- tity, personality or the fit with other lab members is equally important. Candidates who do not thrive or even survive in one lab may become international scientific stars working in other labs. You should ask yourself whether you are excited to work with the candidate after the interview. A postdoctoral posi- tion is a life-long commitment on both ends and you will be responsible for providing support for the candidate throughout their career. They will need access to your resources, scien- tific network, letters for future jobs, promotions, and grants. Therefore, it is extremely important to hire a postdoc for your group with whom you can make a long-term commitment. There is always tremendous pressure to hire immediately, but not rushing through the process will provide an excellent op- portunity to get the right trainee in your group. It is a learning process and most senior colleagues will tell you that you get better at it with practice. So sit back, evaluate, and make a diligent decision. You are set to enjoy the scientific journey.

Visit the Career Center at BPS2020 Room26AB San Diego Convention Center February 15–18, 2020

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Since it began in 2018, the Student Chapter program has grown to 29 chapters in 8 different countries.

December 2019



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