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Get a Foot in the Door
Making the Match
Consider post-doctoral training in industry
The best preparation for a scientist job search
Ask the experts: How to get Hired
Advice from Academic Experts
Advice from Biotech Experts
Advice from Big Pharma Experts
Biographies of the experts
Other stories (coming soon)
Share Your Experience


Article Source: naturejobsAsk the Experts: How to get Hired

by Grace Wong

Nature Biotechnology  22, 1481 - 1482 (2004)

Grace H.W. Wong is chief scientific officer at ActoKine Therapeutics. gw@actokine.com

Advice from Academic Experts.

Advice from Professors, Directors, or Scientists.

Grace H.W.Wong, PhD Founder and chief scientific officer of ActoKine Therapeutics and founder and president of Student Vision.

1. California Institute
of Technology

David Baltimore PhD

The Nobel Prize in Physiology
or Medicine 1975

600 publications

Criteria: Scientific excellence and ability to work effectively with others.

Mistakes: Not being prepared to intelligently discuss with the interviewer the full range of implications of the work of both the interviewee and the interviewer.

Advice: Laboratory skills are important but not as important as a wide ranging understanding of the issues in the field and the approaches that can be used to make progress.

2. MIT

Dr. Robert Langer

Criteria: That they be brilliant, motivated, hard working and get along with others.

Advice: Building skills first before networking and substance is what counts. "A lot of times somebody will tell you that your idea, or your invention, can't be done. I think that's very rarely true. If you believe in yourself and if you really work hard and stick to it, I believe there is very little that is impossible."

3. Duke University

Professor Emeritus
Irwin Fridovich PhD

Expert in SOD and
oxygen free radicals
400 publications

Criteria: The most important thing to examine is past productivity.

Mistakes: A serious mistake that a candidate can make is to exaggerate past accomplishments.

Advice: Do not exaggerate past accomplishments, because as soon as that is perceived it casts doubt on everything the candidate has or will say.

4. MIT

Charles M Vest, PhD
Former president of MIT

Criteria: Excellent taste in selecting problems and areas of inquiry, demonstrated scientific talent, intellectual independence, passion and persistence.

Mistakes: Not communicating clearly what they have done, how they have done it, and why it is important. Implying a greater contribution to team efforts than may be the case.

Advice: Communicate clearly and concisely. Demonstrate scientific insight and curiosity, and an appropriate understanding of how you could contribute to the mission of the organization to which you are applying.

5. Cold Spring Harbor

Bruce Stillman, PhD
President and CEO

Criteria: Identify individuals who have a vision of what they want to accomplish and know how they will go about achieving their goals. Broad thinkers with interests outside their own work.

Mistakes: Failure to appreciate the existing science at Cold Spring Harbor and inability to define how they will fit in with potential colleagues.

Advice: One has to have a passion for the area on which you chose to work. Carefully think about your choice for postdoctoral research as it will impact your early career and choose to solve a problem that will have broad impact in many fields.


Emanuel F. Petricoin
FDA-NCI Clinical Proteomics
Program CBER/FDA

130 publications

Criteria: 1. track record of creative thinking 2. publication track record 3. demonstration in team collaborations/ability to get along with others

Mistakes: 1. Self-engrandizement 2. Inability to communicate vision forward

Advice: Come in to an interview with a vision of where you see yourself in 1, 3 and 5 years. Don't feel that you have to blow your own horn, but clearly communicate what your special attributes are and how you fell that you can blossom in the new position.


Thomas J. Kindt, PhD,
Director of the Division of
Intramural Research
National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases.

222 publications
2 books
2 patents

Criteria: Good training and high productivity in previous positions. A reasonable fit of the individual's skills and accomplishments to our needs is assumed, but if one has been successful in previous positions, that usually signals that they will be good for the new job.

Mistakes: A big mistake is making judgmental statements about a program before they have complete information about it. For example, indicating that the system is broken and they would make major changes to fix it is not well received. Not having done their homework to learn about the organization can also lead to statements that are offputting to the interviewer. Lastly do not make a list of things you would never do - if you don't want the job don't accept it but never try to limit the scope of the position by saying something like "I will never touch a dangerous pathogen or never work with animals."

Advice: In your application present your abilities and successes clearly and succinctly, do a review of the organization and the key players in it and comment positively about this if the opportunity arises. At the interview listen carefully to the questions and answer them honestly. Indicate willingness to stretch your efforts to include mission-related tasks and point out how your background does meet the need of the organization.

8. MIT

Wolfgang Ketterle PhD

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2001

Criteria: Creativity, persistence, skills, team working skills

Advice: Publication is the best preparation for any job in science. Wherever you go, focus on accomplishment. Hold yourself to a high standard and do quality work.

9. National Cancer
Institute NCI

Joost J. Oppenheim MD
Chief of Immunoregulation

Criteria: 1. Recommendations and discussion with previous mentors. 2. Ability to present cogent and clear summary of their work. 3. Evidence of broad interests, knowledge and honesty. 4. Demonstrate sense of humor, perspective and curiosity.

Mistakes: 1. Undue interest in pay scale and job conditions. 2. Expressed interest in a subsequent career in industry rather than focus on scientific goals. 3. Failure to respond to interviewer with questions.

Advice: 1. To realize that although a mentor and his lab can provide a good research environment, their success is largely dependent on their own ingenuity, resourcefulness and independence. 2. They need to work well with their colleagues because scientific interactions will increase their productivity. 3. Studies should be hypothesis driven and experiments with appropriate controls should be planned and performed to challenge that hypothesis. 4. Be flexible and change the hypothesis in response to unexpected results. Take advantage of serendipitous observations, but be realistic and attack problems that can be solved with the available tools in order to achieve publishable results.

10. University of Texas

Southwestern Medical Center
Michael S. Brown, MD

The Nobel Prize in Physiology
or Medicine 1985

Criteria & Advice: Criteria for hiring postdocs:1) demonstrated ability to solve scientific problems and bring difficult studies to completion; 2) positive attitude toward accepting challenging assignments without premature defeatism; 3) a strong ego that reinforces willingness to work openly with others, knowing that success will bring plenty of credit to share.With regard to hiring indpendent scientists just out of postdoctoral fellowships I would use the above three criteria plus one more: a focussed plan of future work that does not duplicate the work of his or her mentor. With regard to working in academia vs industry I use an illustration. To some extent science in both settings is a gamble. It's like playing pocket billiards. You pick up the cue and fire away at the balls, hoping to sink one. The only difference is that in industry you have to call your pocket in advance. In academia we can take credit for any ball that falls into any pocket. In this regard we academicians have a tremendous advantage.

11. Monash University
Melbourne, Australia

Professor David de Kretser

The Foundation Director of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development

Executive Chair Director and the Associate Dean of the university's Faculty of Medicine

Criteria: In hiring scientists I look very critically at their curriculum vitae to look at the range of experience that they have had in relationship to the job that is available. I look at the publications that they have generated and also particularly at the places they have worked. Clearly if I know that the come from a reputable laboratory with which I am familiar, it adds to the possibilities of their employment. I do look at the nature of the science that they have worked in whether that would have influence of their publication record. I look also for some indication as to what their career path is and what their vision is for their employment future so that I can see whether it fits with the position that we have.

Mistakes: In regard to interviews, often candidates do not listen to the question that is asked and formulate their answers appropriately. I will often ask their view of why they have applied for this job and what particular skills they think can be brought to the position that they applying for. Sometimes questions might be directed to explore their understanding of the technologies necessary for the position unless of course, these are relatively new and have been developed by our own laboratories. Often questions are phrased to give the prospective applicant some opportunity to outline their vision for the future and how they see this position interfacing with that vision

Advice: If they are really serious about an application they should go through a trial interview with friends or colleagues who are likely to be able to phrase questions that might be asked by the interviewing panel.

12. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia

(Former Head)
Professor Emeritus
Sir Gustav Nossal

University of Melbourne

Criteria: My most important criterion for hiring a scientist is clearly scientific ability and reputation. Above all, in this game it is the "superstars" who will make or break an organization. There is obviously a role for minor players, but it is very much a supportive one. The "superstars" tend to identify themselves - either because of a „king hit" that they have already scored or because of a shining intelligence and creativity that comes through an interview, or in presentations at meetings or just informal discussion. All other criteria are secondary to this one of scientific ability. That being said, a good, collegial, interactive personality certainly helps and if one can detect an element of generosity of spirit in the scientist concerned this is a definite plus. Some scientists are quite open in talking about their latest discoveries; they are not frightened that someone or another will pinch their brilliant thoughts! This tends to be more the tradition in the United Kingdom than in the United States, and Australia has in this respect followed the United Kingdom tradition.

Mistakes: Among the mistakes that scientists have made are to reveal ambition for themselves rather than a true scholar's desire to learn. Ambition is not a bad thing but it must be subjugated to the pure flame of seeking after the truth. Another mistake is to emphasize too heavily excellence of results at examinations or other indications of academic performance. Good results may reflect analytical intelligence but say nothing about creativity, imagination or the capacity for lateral thinking. Finally, a very few scientists reveal an interview their desire for the comfortable, sheltered lifestyle of a university academic. Yes, there is a self -indulgent element within academia, hopefully a minority one! Such people certainly have no place in an institution like the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Advice: The key advice that I would give is to be utterly and transparently yourself. A new job will work best if the interests of the employer and the employee are aligned. This is less likely to be the case if the interviewee "guilds the lily". There is no point pretending to have interests and abilities which you really do not have. Secondly, the curriculum vitae should be carefully and meticulously prepared. It does not have to be long and wordy. It should convey the most important prior achievements and highlight the most imaginative future plans. Thirdly, a reasonable amount of background work on the interests of the employer and /or the employing institution is well worthwhile. One is certainly more warmly inclined towards a person who displays a genuine interest in the ongoing work and who leaves the impression that he/she can contribute to that march of progress.

13. University Emeritus
of Ghent, Belgium

Dr. Walter Fiers
Expert in cytokines

Criteria: a- Quality of publications; especially what the contribution of the candidate was relative to that of the other authors. b- Personal, confidential letters of recommendation

Mistakes: Believe that they can obscure shortcomings by an avalanche of words or by name dropping

Advice: Choose a laboratry in accordance with your credentials.


14. University of

Britton Chance,
Ph.D. Sc.D.
Dept. of Biochemistry
and Biophysics

500 publications

Criteria: from good "stable"

Mistakes: talk too much

Advice show both hands-on (group activities) an theoretical capabilities





Academic Professors, Directors, or Scientists

1. University of
Manchester, UK

Nancy J Rothwell, PhD
Professor of University
of Manchester

Criteria: 1) Enthusiasm, 2) passion, 3) people need to work well together (ask everyone in the lab for their thoughts), and 4) Advice from trusted colleagues.

Mistakes: 1) Missing the key issues, 2) Many focus on detail and forget the bigger issues, 3) Lack of enthusiasm, Under (or less frequently over) selling themselves, 4) Failure to answer the question (usually they answer a question you didn't ask), and 5) often they even look at you!

Advice: 1) Show them you are passionate and will overcome the hurdles, 2) Don't be afraid to be human (e.g. the reason you are moving is because your spouse had to or the break in your publications is when you had a baby etc).

2. MIT

Shuguang Zhang, PhD
Associate Director

Criteria: Passionate curiosity, self-motivated, enthusiastic about research with a hard working attitude. Be independent with a prepared mind for unexpected observations and think a lot. The background is less important.

Mistakes: Some people are too shy; they should be more assertive, active and interactive.

Advice: Tell the potential employers what you want to do, what you know, what you want to learn and at the same time be modest.

3. University of Sydney,

Iain Campbell, PhD
Associate Director of Scripps

190 publications

Criteria: Criteria for hiring were based first on information present in cover letter and CV. A well presented cover letter and CV without spelling and grammatical errors is important. You can almost predict a person by the appearance and content of their cover letter and CV. Satisfying job description requirements is very important. This is the point for excluding most of the applicants who lack the required experience or skills. Good letters of reference.

Mistakes: For the job interview, presentation is important. I like interviewees who show confidence and are curious about the position-that is ask questions. The interview is no place to be shy; however, it is also bad to be cocky or too flamboyant. They need to fit in group otherwise I will exclude them.

Advice: 1) Never let good opportunity go, 2) work hard and try to publish good work that people take notice of and hopefully the opportunities arise, 3) to know people and them know and respect you through your good publication.

4. Trudeau Institute, NY

Dyana Dalton, PhD
Associate Professor

Criteria: 1) Prior evidence of productivity is essential. 2) recommendation from supervisors

Mistakes: Does the applicant communicate effectively? They should be able to give a seminar on their work clearly explaining what question(s) they were trying to answer, how the data addressed the question(s), and what is the general importance of their work.

Advice: I would be enthusiastic about an applicant that was trained by someone I know or by someone whose work I admire. But the post doc will also need the appropriate skills and evidence of productivity to get a job offer.

5. University of Pittsburgh
School of Medicine

Lyons-Weiler,James PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology

Criteria: Are they studying interesting questions? Do they evaluate their own research critically? Do they like to share ideas? Do they have a sense of humor? Are they passionate about what they do?

Mistakes: I've seen candidate that are so nervous they forget to ask about their interviewee's work. Be sure to do your homework and ask questions about each person's research.

Advice: Identify your passions, and find a job that allows you to be passionate about your work. Identify a place doing what you want to do, and contact them. Don't just use job postings.

6. NCI-Frederick

Howard A. Young PhD
Principal Investigator

Criteria: 1. Clear understanding of their previous work both from the theoretical and "bench" aspect. 2. Ability to think on their feet (e.g. can they handle questions during their seminar) 3. Desire to learn.

Mistakes: 1. Poor slide preparation for their seminars. 2. Talking about work that they didn't perform but were done by lab members. A corollary of this is being vague in their seminars about which aspects of the projects they actually performed. 3. Claiming expertise they don't really have. 4. Showing lack of any interest in the overall program

Advice: 1. Be honest about what you can really do. 2. Be enthusiastic about learning new technology and exploring new areas of research 3. Have at least a reasonable idea about your long term goals. 4. Be willing to participate in the lab as a true team player.

7. Tufts University School
of Medicine

Naomi Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Dean, Sackler School
Professor of Pathology

Criteria: Scientific vision, Strong research track record, Ability to articulate a program that is both exciting and likely to be fundable, Mentoring abilities.

Mistakes: Failure to demonstrate an understanding of the "big picture" and fit their own work into a larger context. Inability to articulate the steps required to advance the field over the next 5 years.Advce: Strong communication skills - written and oral are almost as critical for success as strong bench skills.

8. Harvard Medical School

Benjamin Neel, MD, PhD
Department of Immunology

Criteria: For postdocs: Interest in and dedication to becoming independent PI in academia or group leader in industry. Knowledge of the work we do and specific questions about it. Some indication that they have a set of concrete goals for their post-doc training and a plan for accomplishing it--and some indication that they have thought about why training in our lab will help them accomplish this. For scientists: A clear research plan, both short and long term. Indication that they will become national and international leader in their field. Indication that they will be good departmental citizens and colleagues. Interactive, interested in others' research, collaborative. Complementary training/interests to others in department

Mistakes: Failure to have investigated the lab before coming. Lack of specific career goals.

Advice: See above

9. Yale University

Jordan Pober MD

Criteria: For a junior faculty recruit (i.e. new Assistant Professsor), one-on one interviews are generally less helpful and less important than seminars and, in our experience, second visit chalk talks, the latter focused on plans for the first several years as a lab head. We seek faculty who we believe will run a lab that will make a difference. We look for candidates with novel ideas and/or approaches. Good candidates often come from good labs, and a key issue is to separate the contributions of the junior person from their mentor. This comes across best in the way a seminar is organized or in a description of what they plan to do once they are on their own. The key issue from one on-one interviews seems to be to convince the interviewer that having this person at Yale would be good for the institution and could catalyze new collaborative research efforts.

Mistakes: Showing a lack of interest in the interviewer's work.

Advice: To do some homework on other members of the department or program so that the interview can be used to effectively demonstrate the possibilities of potential interactions.

10. Boston University

Dr Thomas D Gilmore
Chair and Professor of Biology

Criteria: I look for a person who has been successful either as a grad student and/or post-doc, generally in terms of publication numbers and quality. I also rely heavliy on letters of recommendation, looking for letters that indicate the person is a hard worker, interacts well with peers, is insightful and interactive, and takes initiative.

Mistakes: Acting disinterested in the position. Giving excuses why they might not be able to do certain things, even before being offered the position. Poor interpersonal skills.

Advice: Do your homework before going on the job hunt: know the publications of the people you are going to meet with (i.e., read some of their papers), know the names of people you will meet with, give a practiced, polished and accessible seminar. Don't get bogged down in money. A position that is productive and lower paying is worth a lot more than a position you dread but pays a lot of money.

11. Forsyth Institute

Toshihisa Kawai, DDS, Ph.D
Assistant Member of the Staff
Department of Immunology

Criteria: Passion for research, previous research productivity, originality, novel ideas.

Mistakes: Mistakes may be attributed to efforts in searching for a "work hard" researcher rather than a "work fast and precise" researcher.

Advice: It seems to be important to establish a good relationship with a trustworthy researcher who has integrity and passion to research. The scientist referenced by such a researcher could be the first candidate for the consideration of recruitment. Choose to work in an area that you have passion and excitement for. Pay is not necessarily the most important criteria in the research field of academia.

12. Stanford

Hugh McDevitt, M.D
Professor of Immunology

Criteria: Quality of their work, future and plans.

Mistakes: Not gibing a lear account of their future directions.

Advice: Pay close attention to 1 and 2 above.

13. Boston College

Thomas N.Seyfried, PhD
Professor of Biology
Fields of Interest
interactions in epilepsy
and brain cancer

Criteria: At Boston College, a top teaching and research institution, it is most important that job applicants have published many first authored papers and have excellent oral communication skills. This predicts the establishment of an independent research program and good teaching skills. It also helps if the job candidate already has extramural funding.

Mistakes: A common mistake is that the job candidates are not familiar with the departmental research programs or faculty research areas. In other words, the candidates have not done their background reading or homework about the position or the academic environment.

Advice: It is important for the candidate to know how their research and teaching interests would fit with the research interests and teaching requirements of the position. New hires are often viewed as potential research collaborators. It helps if the scientist has a clear idea how their research program will complement or interact with those already in the department. It is also necessary to be flexible with teaching requirements. If the position requires some teaching, know what this involves in advance of the interview so you can present your ideas about this during the visit with faculty. It is important for the scientist to remember, that the decision to hire is often based on faculty consensus so every faculty interviewer has some decision on the position whether or not this faculty member was a member of the search committee.

14. Windber Institute

Yaw-Ching Yang, PhD
Director, Microarray Core

Criteria: For BS or MS degree positions, I usually look for people who are hard working, team player, and good at record keeping. For more senior positions, creativity, hard working, team player and communication skills are important to me.

Mistakes: Presentation ran too long and not organized. Try to cover subjects that they don't know much. Inconsistent in answering questions

Advice: Be prepared and practice for interview, don't just show up. Be yourself, be honest and be excited for the possible new position. Work hard, be a team player, adjust to new change and learn new things everyday.

15. Boston University
School of Medicine

Peter B. O'Connor PhD
Department of Biochemistry

Criteria: My most important criteria are twofold. First, the scientist should be fun and easygoing because I'm going to have to work with them and I prefer a low stress work environment. Second, publications are critical - first author publications show the ability to complete a project, middle author publications show the ability to work with colleagues. But overall, number and quality of publications is the biggest issue.

Mistakes: The biggest mistake is not showing 100% focus on the science. I don't care about anything else, I want people to be truly focused on the science.

Advice: The only advice I can offer is to be willing to take risks. Write grants with crazy ideas, but be ready to defend them. Don't be a "me too" scientist that just follows the current fashion. Use the fashion, but don't be consumed by it.

Copyright 2004 Student Vision