Conversations with Postdocs
To hear the story of your life, which must
Take the ear strangely
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Of all the groups here at The Scripps Research Institute
(TSRI) the largest and most diverse by far is that of research
fellows (a.k.a. postdocs). There are about 800 postdocs herescientists
who come from universities and laboratories all over the world,
and, for a few years, make TSRI and San Diego their home.
News&Views writer Jason Bardi randomly selected 12 postdocs
and asked them what brought them here, how they view TSRI
and California, and where they plan to go afterwards.
These are their stories.
I was in the Chemistry Department at the State University
of New York, Stony Brook. I was pretty independent as
a graduate student, but I am a lot more independent
here. [As a postdoc], you almost entirely direct your
own research, which is pretty cool. I like that.
[Chair of TSRIs Department of Molecular Biology]
Peter Wright has the best NMR facility in the nation,
if not the world. The instruments have so much more
capability than most standard NMR instruments. [The
department] has four 600-MHz machines, three 500MHz
machines, a 750, an 800, and soon well have a
900-MHz machine. This group is the largest user by far.
Id say we use 50 to 70 percent. I already knew
a little about NMR before I got here. In Peters
group, Ive learned a lot more. There are a lot
of experts here. So, the opportunity to do cool stuff
was the biggest driving factor that brought me here.
San Diegos pretty nice, too.
Ive thought a lot about going into academics.
I like teaching and the freedom of academics, but I
dont like how in academia you have to do everything
at once. Its hard to teach and do research both.
I like research, so I think Ill try to find a
job in industry.
I was a graduate student in the University of Maryland
Baltimore County (UMBC) under Mike Summers. Before I
even graduated, I had an idea that I wanted to be here.
Scripps is very well known in the NMR community, and
that's the reason I came. Because of Peter Wright, especially.
He has a track record of placing people in academic
positions all over the U.S.
I drove from Baltimore to San Diegotwice. I
left my wife in College Park for six months and then
I flew back and picked her up. The first time I did
it was in winter, and I passed through Amarillo. That
was a horrible experience. There was a winter storm,
and they dont clean the roads. I saw some plows,
but they were three inches above the road. Ill
never pass through there in wintertime again.
My goal is to get a faculty position at a research
university in NMR spectroscopy. Maybe Ill apply
this coming fall, but if not, next year. It takes about
three years in our field for a postdoc to get a position.
My son was born here. He first walked on the beach
at La Jolla Shores. Ill always remember that.
My situation is a little unusual because I actually
was with [Chemistry Chair] K.C. [Nicolaou] as a graduate
student at the University of California, San Diego.
Part of my time was over there and the rest was over
here. I finished in March of last year [and stayed on].
Same bench. Different projects.
I could have left immediately after I finished, but
my fiancee and I at the time were not ready to decide
which side of the country to go to. We decided to wait
eight months and interview at the same time and end
up in the same city. For the most part, it has worked
out. Hes going to Princeton, and Im going
to Merck at West Point, north of Philadelphia. They
are about 45 minutes apart.
As a graduate student, I did the total synthesis of
everninomicin. I worked on two different projects during
my postdoc year. One was a combinatorial chemistry project,
very different than what I did as a grad student. What
Im doing now is total synthesis [of another natural
product], which has a different chemistry than what
I am used to. Were getting pretty close on that
I did my Ph.D. in England, at Cambridge University,
Fitzwilliam College, in mammalian somatic genetics.
I was looking around for a postdoc, and my graduate
supervisor at the time advised me to try to come to
the United States, because it would be easier to get
a job later on having worked here. I wanted to get a
different set of techniques during the postdoc, which
was one of the reasons I came here.
I met [Professor] Steve Reed at a cell biology meeting
in Edinburgh. There was a poster competition at the
meeting and I ended up winning. Steve was one of the
judges, and it gave me a reason to write to him. So
it worked outwe corresponded a little bit, and
I ended up coming here.
Im one of about four people in this lab who
are looking for jobs. Im interested in a faculty
position, and Ive been looking at the U.K. and
at various positions over here. Right now the most likely
option is the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.
Im going out there, actually, next week for a
I met my fiancée here. Playing basketball,
actually. She was a tech in immunology at the time.
Were getting married in October.
I was in Graduate school at Columbia [University].
I wanted to be an RNA structural biologist. I worked
with RNA as a graduate student doing structurefunction
studies, and I wanted to do a similar thing as a post-doc,
but to include proteins. I wanted to work with Jamie
Williamson. I met him at an RNA meeting. I liked that
Jamie didnt just study the structure of something
or just study the biology of something, but he incorporated
both in order to get the real picture.
I was living in Manhattan, in the upper West side.
It was in Harlem, actually. 122nd street. Moving here
was hard. I didnt drive before coming here, and
then I had to buy a car and get comfortable driving.
That was scary.
I came from Paris 11 University in France to [Professor]
Dale Bogers lab three months ago. I [applied for
a postdoctoral fellowship] because of Scripps
reputation and because the research conduced in this
group was pretty nice. I sent many letters around the
world, and I got several responses, including from here.
So I came here. Nothing more.
Whats next? It depends on the employment in
France. Academic? Why notits something I
like! But why not an industrial position? It depends.
There are no jobs in France, so I will take whatever
I get. The government in France has not helped research.
No funding. Its getting better and better now,
so maybe in two years it will be niceI hope.
The weather is fine compared to Paris, of course.
There its rainy. Horrible. Sad.
The last thing I remember about Paris was that we
had a party, with all my friends, to celebrate my Ph.D.
and to celebrate that I solved my structure. The first
thing I remember here is that when I first arrived,
I had many things in my luggage. My tennis racquet,
my roller blades, et cetera. A guy from here, a postdoc,
was helping me at the airport, and he said, What
are you going to do with that here?
I said, "This is California! I can rollerblade, I
can play tennis..."
"No," he said. "No, we work every day." And its
1 | 2 |