The Road to Independence - Part I: Applying for Independent Postdoc Fellowships (16 Oct 2014)

I am a fifth-year graduate student ... and considering applying for such and such fellowships... So starts my e-mail messages to program coordinators nowadays. I am now officially a senior student in the Ph.D. program and on average, this is the year I should wrap things up and start thinking about the next step. And I am. And it is taking a lot of time and effort to do these things. And there is definitely no good guide for what I am trying to do. This is exactly why I decided to go transparent about this process and blog about certain aspects of applying for an independent postdoc fellowship, right off of graduate school.

Everything started with me coming across Ethan Perlstein's Crowdsourcing Discovery project. I really liked the idea of supporting a science project like this and getting a 3D-printed methamphetamine molecule as a bonus. So I backed the project. Fast-forward a few months and I received an e-mail from Ethan about his being in the city and checking the possibility for a meet up so that he could give me the gift. This was extremely timely, because we happened to be looking for new presenters for a science discussion club we had been running at our lab. So I replied back to him asking whether he was willing to present his work and he agreed to do so. And right before I sent his CV to our group for the introduction, I found myself googling Lewis-Sigler Fellowship to see what kind of a fellowship it was.

At that point, my third year in the graduate program, I absolutely was not even thinking about graduation, leave alone where to apply next. I did know that I wanted to do a post-doc and stay in academia for good, but before then, I didn't know about the possibility of becoming an independent post-doc. So I started asking people about the advantages and disadvantages of these fellowships. After a fruitful discussion with Lenny Teytelman, I made up my mind and posted a question about these fellowships on PubChase and got back really informative answers from former/current fellows.

After carefully considering these options and discussing future plans with my dearest wife, we decided that these fellowships were definitely worth applying for before going for a traditional postdoc position. Giving this decision was already a major thing, but preparing the application turned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

As a graduate student who previously applied for smallish fellowships but got rejected from all, and as a student who doesn't have much of an experience in terms of putting in successful grant applications, you can probably feel my pain about working on a killer fellowship application. And add my being international to the equation, which reduces the list of possible positions that I can apply to down to a handful.

Sure, there are really great resources out there talking about how funding mechanism works, how to write successful grants and how to better apply for faculty positions (see Dr. Becca's advice aggregator for more). There are even more of these on the start-up culture, but it turns out that there is no such resource for people like me.

I am also a huge fan of Alex Blumberg's incredible podcast on starting a business and as I listen to him talking about his experience, I realized many similarities between his and mine. This got me thinking about becoming transparent about this whole application process and document things along the way. I might not get any of the fellowships, so I don't know if this blog series is going to be about a successful or a failed application; but, I am hoping that it will prove useful for somebody who is thinking about becoming an independent postdoc.

Coming up next: thoughts about the application packages, recommendation letters and networking.

comments powered by Disqus