| Abstract|| |
Every year, thousands and thousands of people from Asia, most of them PhDs, make the ultimate transition in their lives when they travel to the west to take up fellowship positions (in this case a research fellowship position) in leading labs in North America and Europe. Many of these people travel with their families, not knowing what is coming their way. In this article, a number of issues have been discussed that might help these potential scientists of the future to plan ahead for such a shift and make their transition as smooth as possible.
|How to cite this article:|
Ghayur MN. Hunting for the Right Research Fellowship: The Dos and Don'ts. Saudi J Kidney Dis Transpl 2008;19:678-80
Just a couple of years back, I never would have thought that I would be pursuing my long thought-of dream of working in a world class lab as a post-doctoral research fellow. I am enjoying the time of my life at the Smooth Muscle Research Group of Department of Medicine, McMaster University working primarily with vascular smooth muscle cells of rodent kidneys for Ca 2+ signaling pathways with the help of confocal microscopy. However, finding a place from Pakistan for a fellowship in the west wasn't at all any easier than completing my whole PhD! In fact, this is what most PhDs have to say when they graduate from universities in South-Asia and then sit glued to their computers day and night finding a post-doctoral position, not to mention how the post-9/11 scenario has made things even tougher. These days in Pakistan, and also in other countries of Asia, after one has even got an acceptance from a lab in US, visa processing can take up to a year to process while going for an interview, extensive visa processing charges, getting a medical report, etc are all additional. As in my case, when I was to travel with my wife and son, I would have been asked to expect more. That is why I opted for any country other than US. In that case, countries like Canada, Australia and UK were at the top of my list. Thus, after getting a fellowship offer from a lab in Canada, my only concern was the visa acquiring process. But luckily regarding this, I wasn't even asked to appear for a visa interview and the whole process took only 5 weeks, phenomenally faster than I expected.
Doing a post-doctoral fellowship can have its advantages and disadvantages too. Many believe, including myself, that a PhD without a fellowship is just like a cake without its icing. A fellowship not only gives a novice PhD the required prerequisite training to enter the world of academia but also the skills relating to research project designing, grant writing and paper writing which all aid in polishing up a complete researcher. When I consider working in a good lab in the developed world and accumulating experience, the know-how of trouble shooting and critical-thinking skills in order to use them after returning back to my home country, it can be just too rewarding! Apart from the personal gains and rewards I would gain myself, the rewards are also fruitful in monetary terms for an academic position a post-doc fellow might get while returning back in the developing world. However, some believe that as one has already spent so much time studying while completing a PhD, it is always wise to enter academia right after the PhD gets completed to compensate for the time spent on the bench juggling around with test tubes and pipettes and browsing through tons of papers and literature. But every one has their own will to perceive and do what they feel is right for them.
I had always planned for my post-doc fellowship knowing that to apply to a good lab in the developed world while still in an Asian country would never be easy. I was always on the move during my PhD attending and presenting my findings in international conferences, which took me to many countries outside Pakistan such as North America, Europe, Northern Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific (who says you are tied to your bench in PhD!). It was because of these many conferences I attended, that I was also able to win research prizes and travel grants that made a very strong impact on my resume. Probably, one other reason for such rigorous-traveling during my PhD could also be because of the stories I had heard that many a times one could be offered a post-doc fellowship position while presenting a poster presentation in a meeting! For such a wonder, one just needs to be really attached to his/her poster expecting probable-post-doc offering-PIs to come around and get caught in the web of a presenter's strong background and knowledge of the subject and convincing communication skills. In fact, it would not be wrong to claim that I found my self in such a morale-boosting situation when I was offered a place by a Professor from USA while I was presenting a poster in a meeting in Morocco, but unfortunately the timing of the offer didn't suit me so I decline it. Winning prizes and getting postdoc offers is not the only advantage of attending scientific meetings during graduate studies, apart from the vast amount of knowledge and insight into new advances in the field one receives, meetings are the perfect forum for networking among your peers and with those already in the field. So it is better to grab as much opportunities as possible from attending these events.
Many other things also matter, especially if a person is applying for a fellowship position in the west from an Asian country. It is a situation when a Professor, thousands of miles away in North America or Europe or Australia, is to recruit a person who will be working in his/her lab designing and implementing projects and writing papers and possibly grants whom he/she has never seen or known! It is all dependent on that 15 min interview that is usually done on phone and the thing that really matters, besides your way of speaking and your communication skills, is the resume and especially the "list of publications". Having the advantage of a very productive supervisor in my PhD, I was able to publish extensively in peer-reviewed journals, which made my application even stronger.
From my side, I was looking for a Professor who could offer me a funded position, so that I don't have to sit and write a grant while trying to settle down in a new country with my family. In fact, this was one of my most valued statements in the covering lettering while applying for a fellowship to ask for a funded position. I also wanted a PI who already has the experience of inviting over PhDs from an Asian country so that he is aware of any delays or mishaps from my side, which usually happen when someone leaps continents.
It is now around 2 years since I have settled in Canada, and I am doing fine at my position. At this time, I have also managed to get funding for an additional couple of years. This funding is not only taking care of my salary, but is also partially supporting other related research expenses that arise. With all this, I am looking forward to extending my stay here before making another jump, who knows where.
Muhammad Nabeel Ghayur
Department of Medicine, St. Joseph's Hospital, McMaster University, L-314 Research, 50 Charlton Avenue East, Hamilton L8N4A6, Ontario
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None