Finding a job in the US

January 22, 1999

If you are a postdoc scientist looking to enhance your career prospects, the United States could be a good place to start.

Although the United States is one of the easier foreign countries for British people to find work in, it is still a "different culture", says postdoctoral scientist Matt Spencer, who spent a year there.

"Careerwise, the US was very rewarding - particularly because I was heading in a slightly different direction from before and I got exposed to a whole new set of ideas. Also, in the US people go to more conferences and there are more opportunities to meet others, " Spencer says.

"Back in England, a lot of the work I did was a result of the contacts I'd made in the US. Chances are, at least half the people in your field will be there, and many are not aware of what is going on in England."

Spencer tried the two main routes to getting a research post in the States (applicable whether you are already based in the US or starting elsewhere):

"First I thought about who I'd like to work with, and then I wrote to them suggesting I apply for funding. If you bring your own money they are more likely to want you."

The other approach Spencer suggests is to look in Nature or Science for a postdoc position. "There are so many more positions available in the States," he says.

If you want to try the grant-writing approach, two schemes potential postdocs ought to know about are Fulbright Awards ( and Nato Special Fellowship Opportunities for Visiting Scientists from Nato Partner Countries ( nsf/homepage/grants. htm). Typical awards are about Pounds 15,000 for a minimum of ten months, but check the details as individual awards vary.

One method of job hunting - open wherever you are - is to head directly for the recruitment pages of different universities - check web page: acadres/jobs/toc/geog.html. But bear in mind that if you apply for permanent positions you are likely to be at a relative disadvantage to US candidates. For a start there is the small minefield of work permits to negotiate ( uk/ukvisas.html), and in the US those with PhDs tend to graduate with a great deal more experience than do British PhDs.

For postdoctoral work, the US is certainly a land of opportunity. "There are simply many more jobs available than in the UK so there is more chance you will find your particular niche," Spencer says. But a note of caution is in order. Dave Jensen from agency Search Masters International in Arizona issues a warning about the US biotechnology industry. "There is a huge amount of hype that makes you believe there are thousands of jobs. When you look closer, you find there are thousands of people looking for jobs. People expect that they'll come from a first-rate graduate programme in Europe and anyone in US would accept them. In reality you run an ad in Science magazine and get hundreds of CVs. Institutions will go for people with the lowest relocation costs."

Academic postdocs are a little different and US principal investigators will see it as an advantage to bring in collaborators from abroad - bringing different ideas and experience. Postdoctoral experience in both US academia and industry will generally be worth its weight in gold.

For those wanting to stick to academia it can bring the contacts and ideas to launch a career. Those looking for a company position could do well to consider the reason European companies advertise in the US - they are looking for researchers who have broadened their horizons with a stint in a different environment.

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