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How to choose the right postdoc?

Christine Toutain, Stéphanie Kervestin, Cyril Berthet and Latif Rachdi.

Advice from Christine Toutain, Stéphanie Kervestin, Cyril Berthet and Latif Rachdi.

1/A year before leaving, when you're looking for a host lab and if you don't have any connections, look at the number of publications and the types of financing available. That's important. Beware: the size of the lab is not always a good indicator. A small lab can be very dynamic if it's driven by a director who's aiming to make a name for him or herself.

2/ Once you've made up a list, you can send out spontaneous applications, but it's better to have a recommendation from your research director... and come from an eminent lab.

3/ When you get a positive answer, it's extremely important to go visit the labs (which pay plane tickets) and meet as many people as you can to get a feel for the atmosphere.

4/ Once you're there, one question to ask is "how long does it take for PhD students to get their degrees?" That can be a clue to the lab's dynamism. If it takes more than seven years when the average is five (including the Masters degree), proceed with caution! That's often a sign that the boss is hardly available.

5/ During the interview, don't focus only on the scientific aspects of the postdoc. Ask about additional training, talk about the type of visa (generally a J1), the salary and everything else! Social benefits (health care and retirement) and the cost of living (which can be very high in large American cities) are likely to eat into your budget.