“I can’t find a decent postdoc to work in my lab. Most of the applicants perform more like technicians. Do I have to design their experiments for them too?!” Jerry, a young junior investigator, was sharing with me his frustrations with the lack of talented postdocs. This is a common sentiment from many labs, especially with start ups that don’t have the clout or reputation of an established group.

Right now, I’m deep in the middle of helping young faculty set up and develop their own research labs. Many of them are fighting to find talent to help them achieve their research goals. However, the problem inevitably comes when they are trying to find that talented postdoc who can not only carry out their research objectives, but also to enhance those plans and develop their own plans.

I often find that young investigators don’t have the time and energy to search for talented postdocs who see a start up as an opportunity, and who thrive in environments with a high level of uncertainty. These postdocs are passionate and can see the potential of making a personal mark in their field and become a seminal researcher.

A talented postdoc should be able to add their own unique perspective to the research, and they should see their role as an opportunity to be creative and to add value. However, as we plow through CVs and resumes we find applicants who expect a course to be laid out, or a lab to be already established. That’s never the case with a start up. There are so many uncertainties and variables that can lead to failure or bankruptcy. Therefore, finding a postdoc who understands this and can navigate these obstacles is critical.

You may be saying, “Sounds great! Where and how do you find these postdocs?!” Well, as surprising as it is, they’re most often NOT found by posting an ad in a journal or through your departmental job board. Now, I’m not saying that isn’t an option, it’s just not the most efficient or optimal recruitment tool. The way these type of workers are found is most often the same way entrepreneurial ventures find their seminal teams, SELLING!

Here are 3 top ways a junior investigator/early career faculty can find and recruit talented postdoctoral fellows:

  1. Referrals/ Networks. Connect with your mentors, peers, and collaborators. I find that the most important interview is with the reference, not necessarily with the candidate. Tap into your trusted network of connections. Most often they know you and your work, and can promote a suitable talent.
  2. Talks/Seminars. Give talks and seminars, again, again, & again. Let people know about your current research findings. Believe it or not, NOT everyone follows ALL of the latest and greatest publications. There’s too many to keep track of. Most often, people read up on an investigator’s work AFTER they’ve heard a talk. You might peek a young talent’s curiosity.
  3. Conferences/ Poster presentations. These are great places to find the latest talents, and to engage them. This is an opportunity for you, as a young investigator to sell and pitch novel ideas to a young postdoc. This is an opportunity to inspire and to sell your research vision. These are great for creating a genuine one on one rapport.

People have trouble finding talent because they don’t sell their own talent. As a young mentor, it’s your job to inspire your future trainees through your own research. Showing talent how their work could relate towards a vision and showing them how they could contribute towards that vision could be a powerful aphrodisiac for research success. As a junior principal investigator, this is the time to learn how to sell and to inspire. This will be a big part of your job as a leader.

What are some ways that you have found talented postdoc fellows? If you are a postdoc, what drives you to work with a specific mentor?

Share with us.


Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower