Shortly after the September 11 attacks, I did my master’s degree. Even though I was at the Free University in Berlin, the economic situation was not favorable and it was impossible to get an interview with a biotech company. The only way I could not bring my career to a standstill and get a job was to do a doctorate.
I was lucky enough to get a job at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biology, a very prestigious institute. I ended up where I am now, teaching in the biomedical program at DIS Copenhagen. I am Kristine Joy and will guide you through my personal advice on how you can be successful in the academic field.
What made me work in the academic field?
I had a PhD student who was an established professor of Drosophila genetics and I admired his huge office full of books and his endless knowledge of genetics. Besides that, he also seemed to have a lot of time to think about scientific questions. He was the one who made me become a wise professor one day.
With my doctorate in my pocket, I really wanted to explore the world. To be honest, I focused more on doing my PhD near the beach in a sunny country than on the scientific direction I was headed. I applied for positions in Australia and California and was lucky enough to get a job at UC Irvine in a very prestigious laboratory in the field of developmental biology.
How I planned my success
I never actually planned it very well, so I want to share my experience of what to do and what not to do.
Choose your laboratory based on PI earnings (principal investigator)
I should have chosen a laboratory for my postdoc based on the benefits of the PI. Instead, I went to a PI that had just opened their laboratory. This made it more difficult for me to be published in the Nature, Science and Cell articles, but gave me the opportunity to have close supervision. I learned a lot, not only about the scientific, but also about all practical aspects of laboratory operations. However, if you look at very successful academic scientists – if you’re with a PI who publishes regularly in high-level journals, your chances of success increase. However, this also puts you in a highly competitive environment. The truth is that publications are still the main key to success.
Be aware of the funding
The sooner you get personal funds and prizes, the better. In addition to the scientific publications, this is the other very important pillar for success in science. At first I wasn’t aware of the importance of funding and I was late for personal funding – right in the middle of my postdoc. If you are a foreign student, make sure that you know the conditions of the country where you work and that you have access to national funds. For example, as a foreigner in the United States, it is important to get a visa as soon as possible so that you can qualify to apply for NIH funding.
Develop a diverse teaching portfolio
Supervise students as often as possible and volunteer as a co-teacher. Giving lectures is also a great way to relieve your fear of public speaking.
Find a mentor
The most important point to be successful in the field of science is to find a mentor who can support you. Keep in mind that your mentor should also be able to press the right buttons on the system to advance your career.
Personally, I only recognized these crucial aspects later in my career, but I was very lucky to find a mentor who helped me. In my opinion, publications, funding, and a supportive and influential mentor are the key factors for a successful academic career.
Kristine Joy did her PhD in human genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and the Free University in Berlin. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship at UC Irvine and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen and an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen. Kristine has been with DIS since 2016.
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