What is a post-doc for (and how to succeed in getting one)?

Last week, the McGill Association of Postdoctoral Fellows hosted a very useful seminar on how to succeed with post-doctoral fellowship applications. Those in attendance were privy to very sound advice from a charismatic and knowledgeable speaker, Dr. Madhukar Pai, a McGill Associate Professor in the field of Health Sciences. Over the course of his career, Dr. Pai has served on review committees of numerous granting agencies (such as CIHR or FRSQ) and has become an expert on what makes certain post-doc candidates immediately stand out from a pile of applications. His insightful and honest descriptions of the review process – peppered with his humorous comments on the harsh reality of academia – are indispensable words of wisdom for PhD students at any stage; whether you are just beginning your PhD or have reached the end of the long process and are about to jump ship, these are valuable strategies to keep in mind as you plan your future in academia.

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A tumultuous move to Montreal

October, 2008. I am in Edmonton, finishing up my BSc at the U of Alberta. I apply for an NSERC, thinking there is NO WAY I will ever get it. I’m still rattled about not having any idea on how to become what I want to be, but maybe going to grad school is as good a starting point as any. Right? Right???

October 2008 – January, 2009. I apply to professors. Each time, I read countless papers, think of a unique questions I would like to address as their graduate student, draft a beautiful letter, send it off. I’m full of expectations. But no reply. No reply. NO REPLY NO REPLY. I apply throughout Canada and the Eastern US. No fishies biting. I feel hopeless, listless, and depressed. 38 beautiful, perfectly formulated letters later, I give up. (more…)

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