Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dear Potential Post Doc or PhD Student - top10 ways to get a position in my lab

Dear Candidate (for any type of position in my lab)

I thought I would write a letter to you to help guide you in how to apply for a position in my lab.  Here are some suggestions for things that really help out - based on real emails I note ...

  1. Describe your interests by copying text from my web site.  This shows that you are not only able to read, but also able to either copy directly or retype what you have read.  It is very appealing.
  2. Get my name or institution wrong in some way.  This shows that you are likely being industrious in applying for lots of jobs.
  3. Include attachments that do not open on Macs. Screw Steve Jobs and all of his fans.
  4. Send the same email multiple times - once to Prof. Eisen at UC Davis, once to Dr. Eisen at JGI, and once to Prof. Eisen from the "Genome Center at UC Davis."  Repetition is an important literary technique. 
  5. Refer to the "reputation" of my group without saying anything specific about what interests you.  I love things based on reputation alone.
  6. Describe your background as very relevant to our work and then say that you too have focused extensively on microarray based studies of gene expression (I love stealing candidates whose original goal was to work in my brother's lab).
  7. Have no publications but a list of more than 10 as "in preparation".
  8. Include viruses in attachments - as I am interested in evolution of microbes this is appealing.
  9. Express an interest in biological weapons and biological defense and be from a terrorism sponsoring country.
  10. Have the original email message be more than four pages long with dozens of questions for me about my institution and my open positions.


  1. You actually got a #9?

    Also, has anyone confuse you with your brother on one of those letters?

  2. Yup I got a #9 and forwarded it too various federal authorities.

    And I have gotten dozens confusing me with my brother ..

  3. Address me as 'Dear Sir'. This shows that you're not making sexist distinctions between men and women.

  4. Maybe they think you have been Knighted Rosie?

  5. Jonathan, Rosie: that would be "Dear Dame"

  6. Sums up the situation really well. I find it scary, though, that I received #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, and #10 - all before I even had a lab of my own!

  7. Dear Honored Professor,
    As you can see from my salutation, I hold you so reverently that I cannot even speak your name and will likely hide from you amidst the warm room shakers once employed.

    I am tenacious and approach problems from multiple angles. Thus, I have now friended, connected, subscribed and otherwise inserted myself between every toe of your social media footprint.

    Finally, please find attached a list of nearly universal undergraduate laboratory techniques in which I consider myself proficient. I have left out the less sophisticated techniques like "ice-bucket filling" or "labeling" in the interest of your time.
    I receive these all the time .. which makes them so much competitive, since I run a grant program and don't manage a lab.

  8. I send this to most applicants to my lab:

    Whether it's an initial introductory email or a formal interview, job applications are a little bit like dating. While it is important to be informative about your qualifications, it is also important to show an interest in the other party. Suppose an attractive potential mate approaches you. Which of the following 3 statements would make a more favorable impression on you?

    A: Hi, my name is Chris, I like tennis and drive a BMW. I am very responsible.

    B: Hi, my name is Kelly, I've seen you around and you always have something thoughtful to say. I was wondering what your opinion was about the recent events in ...

    C: Move, you're in my way.

    Statement A is informative. Chris is athletic, wealthy enough to have a nice car, and has performed some positive self-assessment.

    Statement B is less informative about Alex. But Alex is interested in you specifically and values your opinion.

    Statement C is a little rude but perhaps the person is just busy.

    You letter was like Statement A. Informative, but ultimately boring. You could have written the same letter to 100 people. Next time, try showing some interest in me. By the way, this is a form letter I send to everyone who writes me letters like yours. In case it is not clear, it is in the form of Statement C.

  9. " I love things based on reputation alone."
    Well, you do use a Mac, so yes...


    "Express an interest in biological weapons and biological defense and be from a terrorism sponsoring country."
    Arguably, no act of bio weapon deployment was more effective than what we did to the Native Americans with smallpox. I understand why it'd give you pause, but I think there's something about glass houses here...

  10. Fine Becca - how about :Express and interest in biological weapons" and be from anywhere

  11. Hilarious!! I wanted to object to #9, but couldn't have said it better than Becca.
    Common sense is really not so common after all.

  12. Hmm. I looked at the first email I sent you, and now I feel very, very silly.

    At least I'm innocent of the items on your list, though. Whew.

  13. I especially like when you copy and paste a form letter to me, with bad spelling and grammar, telling me all about your interest and training in fMRI and your desire to work in humans. I am eager to hire people who have no interest in my field whatsoever.

  14. Actually, having only publications "in preparation" as an undergraduate looking for a graduate lab, or graduate student looking for a postdoc is not that bad. Most don't get pushed out until the last year. So it does show you are active.

    More than 10 (really Jon?) may be a bit far-fetched though.

  15. I did not say having "in preparation" pubs was bad --- I was discussing having none published but 10+ in prep --- and I have had at least two post docs applicants with this pattern ---

  16. How about "Dear Sir/Madam" to hedge your bets ? (yes, this has happened to me)

  17. Which reminds me:

  18. Oh, these are helpful to those who plan to apply to a job with a similar description. I think there are only a few people who have that 9th qualification… Well, it's good if you find one that fits all of these.

    Stephania Eckstrom


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