Diving into a new place


As summer draws to an end, for many it’s time for new beginnings. Maybe you’re about to become the first in your family to go to college. Perhaps you’re embarking on a Ph.D. abroad, taking a postdoc in a different field, or setting up your first lab as a principal investigator (PI). Regardless of whether you are moving across the hall, across the world, or into a new field, starting a position or program in a new place can be daunting. It takes a certain amount of planning, soul-searching, and adaptability to make sure that the transition is successful. Knowing what to expect and learning from others who’ve been there already can help you hit the ground running. Here are some pointers.

For trainees

Working my way out by Jason Cantley, 5 August 2016 Jason Cantley describes his approach to a challenging situation many LGBTQ scientists face when starting out in a new place: deciding whether and how to come out to colleagues and advisers.

Show us the money by Andy Tay, 17 June 2016 For young researchers with a new funding source, finding out about the details of where that money is coming from will help make sure that you won’t be left high and dry down the road.

Growth can come in phases by He Fu, 22 April 2016 When starting a new project or a new phase of your career, it can seem like you’re not making progress as you focus on adjusting to your new circumstances—but this “lag phase” is an important part of the growth process.

Leaping into the unknown by Jeremy C. Borniger, 13 November 2015 Jeremy Borniger’s transition from undergraduate studies in anthropology to a Ph.D. program in neuroscience required persistence and openness to change.

Grad students behaving badly by Adam Ruben, 31 July 2015 A humorous take reminds students what not to do when transitioning from the relative structure of college to the apparent freedom of grad school.

Breaking the Class Ceiling by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2014 Working-class students often find themselves at a disadvantage when starting college, but they also possess inner strength that they can turn into a real advantage. 

Forging the Way for Other Minority Scientists by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2013 Going from a minority-serving institution to a Ph.D. program at Harvard University was intimidating for Knatokie Ford, but she succeeded through hard work, support from tutors, and a desire to become a role model for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

No, You’re Not an Impostor by Lucas Laursen, 15 February 2008 Many early-career researchers—and established researchers, too—have to learn to cope with “impostor syndrome,” particularly when transitioning to a new career stage. 

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Starting Off on the Right Foot by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 26 October 2007 Graduate students who are just settling into a new lab should use their first few days to get to know the department, formulate a working plan, and set good research habits.

Relocating With the Lab by Alysia vandenBerg, 31 August 2007 When PIs choose to move to far-away institutions, young scientists must decide whether to go with their lab or arrange to stay at their old institution, sometimes at the risk of jeopardizing their research projects.

Mind Matters: Getting Yourself Mentored by Irene S. Levine, 24 November 2006 It can be especially important for first-generation students, women, foreign students, and students from other minority backgrounds to seek mentorship early on.

Minority Admissions: Countering Cultural Blocks by Anne Sasso, 10 March 2006 Having realistic perceptions and expectations of undergraduate life can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds enroll and persist in college.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Coping With Chronic Illness as a Science Trainee by Irene S. Levine, 10 June 2005 Trainees living with serious long-term conditions need to consider whether and how to disclose them when they’re starting out in a new place.

Navigating the First Year of Graduate School by Takita Sumter, 18 February 2005 Although she felt ill-prepared, Takita Sumter successfully transitioned into graduate school thanks to her mentors, time management skills, perseverance, and confidence.

For PIs

Thesis adviser horror stories by Adam Ruben, 24 June 2015 New PIs should take a look at these bad adviser stories to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

Staffing labs for optimal productivity by Elisabeth Pain, 4 March 2015 PIs who are building their research groups have to make a lot of tough decisions, including whom to hire. A study quantifying the impact of graduate students, postdocs, and technicians on lab productivity offers some pointers.

Managing a lab move by Rachel Bernstein, 23 September 2014 When starting over in a new place, PIs must find out which of their grants and equipment are portable, arrange for their lab members to come along or stay behind, and be prepared to handle unexpected complications.

Business Sense: Starting an Academic Lab by Sarah A. Webb, 17 July 2009 With your first academic position comes the opportunity to set up your own lab—with new financial needs and responsibilities.

At the Helm: Avoiding Management Mistakes by Kathy Barker, 25 July 2003 Among the mistakes new PIs commonly make is not giving enough thought to whom to hire and letting the lab assume its own working style.

How to Hire Your First Lab Tech by Paul Recchia, 26 November 1999 When choosing personnel to fill your empty lab, scientific know-how is important, but so is personality.

For international moves

Adaptability in life and work by Amit Kumar, 26 August 2016 Adapting to life in a new country can be tough, but the skills you develop can also help you advance your research career.

Responsible research guidelines for the global scientist by Elisabeth Pain, 18 February 2016 When moving to a new place, it is important to become familiar with potentially different research cultures, societal attitudes, and ethical regulations.

The best decision I ever made by Kamal J.K. Gandhi, 27 November 2015 Entomology professor Kamal Gandhi describes how she handled the challenges of leaving India for North America to pursue her research dreams.

Coming to America: Doing a Postdoc in the U.S. by Lucas Laursen, 1 January 2010 Differences between the work environments and responsibilities given to postdocs in American and European academic research labs can come as a surprise to newcomers.

The Ups and Downs of Doing a Postdoc in Europe by Lucas Laursen, 7 August 2009 Making a smooth transition to living and doing science in a foreign country requires dealing with logistics and adapting to a new environment.

Bouncing Back in a New Country by Elisabeth Pain, 12 October 2007 After leaving Algeria for France for a master’s degree, Ahcène Bounceur had to adjust to cultural differences and work at night to make ends meet while pursuing his studies.

Mind Matters: Culture Shock by Irene S. Levine, 20 April 2007 Settling in to a new culture can be tough, but there are some strategies that can help make the transition rewarding.

For returning scientists

You can return to research after a career break by Elisabeth Pain, 20 October 2015 With determination and the right kind of support, scientists can restart their research careers, even after a prolonged absence.

Accounting for career breaks by Emily Nicholson, 15 May 2015 Senior lecturer Emily Nicholson’s strategy for explaining her time away from research on her CV helped her land the job she wanted.

Mind Matters: Back to Work After Baby by Irene S. Levine, 30 April 2010 New moms returning to work face many sources of physical and emotional pressure, but they—along with their institutions—can make arrangements to minimize stress and maximize productivity.

Returning to Science by Sarah A. Webb, 30 October 2009 Returning to research after an extended personal leave is rarely straightforward, but re-entry fellowships and part-time working arrangements can facilitate the transition.

Student-Veterans Come Marching Home: Their Return to Studies by Alan Kotok, 6 June 2008 Student-veterans face some obstacles when transitioning to civilian and academic life, but they also bring some qualities likely to benefit their careers.

Alternatives to professorships in academia

Diversity, funding, and grassroots organizing