How to get that postdoc

Image from

Following a quick twitter exchange with @Nic_Derbyshire, I sent her an email about how I went about my postdoc application.  I thought it would be useful to share my experience, and I have thrown in advice I have received from a plethora of sources as well.   It seems quite a fitting time to post this considering the current discussions about the future of synthetic chemists at In the Pipeline and ChemJobber.  I think the advice here is applicable to applications for postdocs in all scientific disciplines, but take care with respect to industrial job applications – these could have very different requirements and the application process can vary widely.

This is based on my limited experience, that of friends and colleagues, watching my boss go through the process, and advice from academics, postdocs, ex-postdocs and the like.  Please fell free to add any of your own experiences in the comments.

I will break this down into a few major points and then discuss each one a little.

Continue reading


Things I have learned (learnt).

My subconscious brain has associated in a manner that was outside the realm of my personal control two aspects of my life that should not be linked.  Writing my thesis and holidays.  This has led to a pleasant week with a few late mornings, a general apathy towards my data, and an increase in social activities more than is appropriate for the first week back after Christmas:  It has not resulted in hard work and panic driven productivity as is required to complete a thesis.   This link was fortunately brutally severed this morning by ‘the fear’. It takes a long time to write 200 pages and by the end of March the available funds for food will have approached zero.

Despite this mornings brutal severance I still feel a great deal of guilt for a less than productive week, so feel I should vindicate the failings of my lazy mind by at least sharing the things I have learned (learnt) this week – then I will start working.

About the English language:

Learned and learnt are both acceptable most of the time (in UK English anyway) . Just be consistent.

Neophyte is my new favourite word. Thanks @CorrineBurns

From my friends:

An owl mug is not an acceptable Christmas gift for your girlfriend of nearly a year.  Especially if there is nothing better than an owl mug inside it.

It is possible to cycle 50 miles, get run over and still score a wonder goal the next day. Please note Ben Arfa is not my friend.

About the internet:

Dropbox is great, my thesis is permanently backed up online and punted to all the computers I work on by magic. A shared dropbox is also a good idea.

Google Reader is a good way to manage blogs.  Having RSS feeds into your bookmarks menu is not.

About myself:

I still find drinking wine in a bar with a friend is a fulfilling way to spend your Monday afternoon despite having a thesis to write – Sorry David.

It hurts inside when a two-year old only manages a cursory glance and a “no thank you” when asked if he would like to say hello to you.

About Twitter:

I don’t like it. It is addictive. I am still not very good at it. I want more followers.  140 characters never seems to suffice.  I refuse to use it to inform you of my eating habits.

I hate you because you tell me about your eating habits.

About blogging:

I like it as much as writing my thesis. Or maybe more!

If  your blog begins with the letter A, this is a good thing. Thanks to Synthetic Remarks I made it onto a blog roll and was ecstatic not be buried at the bottom.

About Peter Rabbit:

As well as a reading of the story, a commentary on the ethics of stealing carrots and being the only rabbit that gets to wear a coat increases the enjoyment for the story-teller, the child, and casual eavesdroppers.

#whoiveseenlive in Brazil

For those who tweet in the UK you may know that trending this week was #whoiveseenlive .  I follow none of the twitterati elite, so maybe there were some interesting tweets, but from what I saw My Chemical Romance and Harry Potter seem to top the list of those who tweet about their lives.  This didn’t really change my life so I thought I would join in with who I saw this week at the ESPCA conference in Campinias, Sao Paulo. There were no wizard outfits or melodramatic emos, but I was lucky enough to hear from four nobel laureates in chemistry who really have changed the world:

Ei-ichi Negishi (center), Richard R Schrock (left), Ada E Yonath (right)

Ei-ichi Negishi awarded the nobel prize in chemistry 2010 (alongside Akira Suzuki and Richard F. Heck).  Their development (not theirs alone) of palladium cross coupling chemistry has revolutionised  chemical synthesis in the pharmaceutical industry as well as in academic laboratories.

Ada E. Yonath  awarded the nobel prize in chemistry 2009 (alongside Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz)  for studies on the “structure and function of the ribosome”, natures protein making machine.

Robert R. Schrock awarded the nobel prize in chemistry 2005 (alongside Yves Chauvin and Robert H. Grubbs) for their studies and development of olefin metathesis, which has given chemists the power to manipulate and synthesise one of the most ubiquitous functionalities in organic chemistry, the alkene.

Kurt Wüthrich awarded the nobel prize in chemistry 2002 (alongside John B. Fenn, Koichi Tanaka) for “developing nuclear magnetic resonance for the determination of 3-D structures of biological molecules in solution”. Previously these structures (primarily proteins) were determined using x-rays of crystals, in an environment very unlike that of biological systems. 

… addendum

After a stressful couple of days with much ranting, I thought in addition to all the useful information I (might) provide, I will probably share quite openly the trials and tribulations of my PhD;  though do bare in mind, my colleagues will probably read this from time to time so don’t expect personal insults!