The postdoc decision: What to consider

WRITTEN BY

Yuling Li

If you’re a Ph.D. candidate with a thesis defense in sight, you may be thinking about the next step in your journey: the postdoctoral fellowship. Where you go—industry or academia—is as much tied to career aspirations as it is to the freedom to be creative within your chosen field of science and to have access to the best training and resources. We talked to three of our postdocs at MedImmune to learn more about what they’ve gained during their time here and how they believe it’s prepared them to be better scientists.

What made you choose an industrial rather than academic postdoctoral program?
Prasad Sarangapani:
I have the perspective of having done both an academic and an industry postdoc program. Important to me has been the mentoring, which has been extremely constructive and open. You don’t get that type of mentorship in academia.

Jonathan Silver: I knew I didn’t want to do an academic postdoc program, so I was already focused on one in industry. I think industry—and the MedImmune program particularly—offers real diversity in projects, the opportunity to be creative and flexible, and great access to cutting-edge resources.

Sarah Conley: I did one prior postdoc in academia and then realized I just really wanted to work within the industry. The resources at MedImmune are amazing, allowing us to really focus on the research and get some great science accomplished!

What is your typical day like?
Prasad:
I spend much of my time in the lab—especially toward the beginning of the program. I’m toward the end of the program now, so I’m spending more time analyzing data and working on writing papers. I’ve had one published and am working on another one, and that’s been a great part of this experience.

Jonathan: Honestly, I don’t think there is a typical day, which is good for me because I like an erratic schedule—that’s part of what I enjoy about being a scientist. There’s at least one 15 to 16 hour day a week. On days when we get human tissue samples, the lab time is shorter.

Sarah: I’m at the front end of this program; so, about 90 percent of my time is in the lab. I enjoy that there is no typical day, though. I’m in a preclinical research group for oncology, and am working on several projects. I’m always learning about new techniques and new assays.

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned during your MedImmune postdoc tenure?
Prasad:
When I came here, I had no formal training in biotechnology and biochemistry, and I knew little about proteins. What I’ve learned here has been invaluable in these areas. Also, I’ve been fortunate to work on a collaborative project with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has been terrific for understanding the unique challenges of a career in industry and government.

Jonathan: I’ve appreciated the emphasis on basic research and how this applies to a broader context, which isn’t common in industry. Also, the exposure to drug and therapy development has been amazing. Identifying targets and measuring what happens is not so easy, and it takes an enormous amount of work—most people don’t understand that. But, the resources we have access to allow for a lot of creativity if you’re willing to put in the effort.

Sarah: I’m focused on a career in cancer research in industry, so learning more about that drug development process has been significant. And, instead of simply handing off research samples, I’m doing assays and understanding their impact. I’m also appreciating the ability to broaden my professional networks beyond my postdoctoral peers. I’m able to meet other people in different areas, share research and learn what others are doing.

MedImmune offers three-year postdoctoral fellowships that include world-class mentoring and research training and involvement in all facets of R&D, reporting, publishing, clinical strategy, pre- and post-marketing and more. Opportunities are available in the following areas:

- Infectious Disease

- Respiratory & Inflammation

- Translational Science

- Oncology

- Biopharmaceutical Development

- Protein Engineering

For information about our current postdoctoral opportunities, visit us here.

Learn more about our postdoc interview subjects
Prasad Sarangapani
Prasad received his Ph.D. in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from the University of Notre Dame du Lac, where he did his first postdoctoral program examining the role of particle softness on glassy dynamics of microgel suspensions in the bulk and in confinement. Since 2011, Prasad has been doing his postdoctoral work in MedImmune’s Formulation Sciences department where, among other projects, he’s been busy designing accurate, high-throughput microfluidic viscometers in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and understanding high-concentration protein solutions using neutron scattering.

Jonathan Silver
Jonathan received his Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Pennsylvania where he focused on cytokine-mediated control of the innate anti-parasitic immune response. He began his postdoctoral fellowship at MedImmune in February 2012 in the Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmunity (RIA) group where his work has focused on understanding the role of innate lymphoid cells in mouse models of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More recently, his efforts have shifted toward trying to identify peripheral innate lymphoid cell signatures in patients with COPD through collaboration with the National Jewish Hospital.

Sarah Conley

Sarah received her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from Michigan State University. Since then, she’s participated in two postdoctoral programs, including one at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center where she studied breast cancer stem cells. Sarah joined MedImmune’s postdoctoral program in July 2013 and works in Preclinical Oncology Research. So far, her experience has enabled her to do work in the areas of molecular biology; gemonic analysis of tumors and cell lines; preclinical models of cancer; and pharmacology and pharmacokinetics.