Job Interview for my First Postdoc - help!
June 24, 2007 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I have just finished my PhD (Biochemistry) and will shortly be having a job interview for my first postdoctoral position. What can I expect in the interview? Any advice?

i am a pretty confident person, and I would like to think I am pretty articulate about science. But I really don't know what questions I can expect to be asked in my interview. I have a phone interview for a position in a research group in the UK.

I find that meetings and interviews are generally a little less structured in science, so I guess it really depends on who is conducting the interview - hence the difficulty in knowing what to expect! Naturally I have looked into the background of the lab, even speaking to past and current members (at the recommendation of my potential boss), so questions about the science itself are fine. But what can I expect to be asked about my suitability as a person and a worker, and medium to long-term career goals?

So have any Mefites been in a similar situation? What questions were you asked for your research position? what advice would you give?

Thank you in advance!
posted by TheOtherGuy to Work & Money (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's hard to say. I went through four interviews and they were all different. One thing that they had in common is that they were all pleasant: they really want to recruit you, so you should try to feel as comfortable as possible. Enjoy it! They generally would like to know about you, and if you're giving a talk they'll ask you about your work (obviously). My interviews really ran the gamut with questions. Some asked only a few questions while others asked a ton of very good questions.

I'd just try to relax and be yourself. Most PIs would like to get to know the individual in question to see if they'll be a good fit, both personally and professionally, to the lab. They'll want to know why you are interested in that particular lab (e.g., my girlfriend is working upstairs isn't a good answer here). It's good to read up on some of their work and ask intelligent questions if it's possible. Congrats on your Ph.D.!
posted by SciGuy at 8:19 PM on June 24, 2007

I don't know about in the UK, but if you were in the US, I'd also be prepared to talk to other people in the lab or even from other labs in the department. This might include other pi's but also other post-docs, students, techs, etc. Some of these people may be more trying to get an idea of you as a co-worker rather than your science skills. Of course these people can be a great way for you to get an idea if the lab will be good for you.
posted by sevenless at 8:34 PM on June 24, 2007

This previous AskMe might help.
posted by RogerB at 9:03 PM on June 24, 2007

CS postdoc here, been through 2 (successful) postdoc interviews and sat on the panel for the recruitment of one other.

They'll ask you about your PhD. This is obvious, but it's worth making sure you can handle all the main PhD related questions: what your main idea/big idea was; what you didn't do that wish you had done; whether there are any publications lurking within the PhD work (this is considered a good thing); how your PhD fits/compares with other work in the field; what your PhD does that nobody elses does; whether there are any common points between your research experience and the aims of the current project.

They'll also be interested in whether it was collaborative and whether you have any experience of working with others - often the PhD is a solo activity and the postdoc isn't (so how will you handle the transition?) but some PhDs are more solo than others.

In a face-to-face interview situation you'd meet the others in the lab, but in a telephone interview this is obviously out. If it's a pre-interview conversation then you should be fine but if there are others getting interviewed face-to-face you are going to be at a real disadvantage. It might be a good idea to put some graphs/diagrams on a web page and refer them to that - chances are the interviewers will have access to the WWW and this is a way of standing out and providing a little visual stimulus to go with your talking. Many ideas in science are much better communicated by a picture.
posted by handee at 12:50 AM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the coalface.

The above advice is pretty good, so I'll just chip in an additional tip: don't take it too personally. There's a massive over-supply of postdocs and so you'll probably have to interview for several positions before you get accepted. You'll go in, turn your charm on, answer long detailed questions on your work, spend all day trying to look intelligent and be fascinated in their work ... and you won't get the job. Hell, they may not even bother to tell you were turned down.

This can happen for lots of different reasons, good and bad. The funding dried up. They decided to go in another direction. The interviewer was an asshole. There was an inside candidate. No applicant quite had the skillset they wanted. The committee can't agree. They take 6 months to get around to making a decision. The job didn't actually exist (this actually happened to me). Or maybe, there was someone better.

It's natural to take it hard or personally - after all you've invested yourself in the process and worked hard for it - but you can't. Give it a good shot and then move onto your next application.
posted by outlier at 4:37 AM on June 25, 2007

handee has covered many of the knowledge questions.

We often get a new person to present a paper, usually 15 to 20 minutes. Give some consideration to which one you pick. The same rules apply as for any presentation: don't read your slides, engage the audience, etc.... As an interviewer, I want to see a problem you had to face and how you resolved it. I want to see that you published in a good journal and that it advances the field. I'll ask you questions about future research, how this would tie into the work you want to do in my shop.

Finally, try to think beyond your dicipline. Getting a PhD is like passing through the eye of a needle. It's the most focussed you will ever be in your career. I want to understand as an interviewer that you can see the broader picture. Do you understand the context of your research? What are the related fields? This is important because science is increasingly collaborative. To build or participate in strong collaborations, everyone needs to be a little interdiciplinary these days. I want to see that you understand that.
posted by bonehead at 8:10 AM on June 25, 2007

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