How Do I Find Out How to Do a Postdoc in the States?


Dear GrantDoctor

I am an Italian Ph.D. student at the University of York, England. I am in my last year and I have been working in the field of crystallography of viruses. Now I would like to apply for a fellowship that would give me the chance to go to work in the States. Which one would be the best grant for me to apply to? How long does it generally take from the application to actually know if I got the money? Being European I would need a visa permit. How does this work? Hoping to hear from you,

Regards, Elisabetta

Dear Elisabetta,

Anyone considering coming to the United States should visit the U.S. Department of State's infoUSA home page for official details on education and study in the United States. The information there is invaluable--you'll find out where to look for funding opportunities and what it is like to live and work in the United States. By the time you've finished browsing this Web site, you'll better understand what you need to do and how best to get organized to do it.

In the United States, postdocs are given any number of titles, from "fellows" or "associates" to "researchers," "investigators," or "students"--so keep this in mind when searching for funding opportunities and employment. And for all you non-U.S. citizens out there, please make sure-- before you come over--that you fully understand what health, dental, and other benefits accompany a grant-funded position or, alternatively, whether the institution to which you are heading has a health care package for their researchers.

The grant-review process depends on where you apply and can take anywhere from 6 months to a full year after you submit your application. You'll also need to allow yourself a few weeks--if not months--before the submission date to make sure that you put together a worthwhile proposal. (Check out the articles in the Grants and Grantwriting section of Next Wave's Career Development Center for advice on how to do just that.) And you should be prepared to deal with the possible gap between when you hear that you've won an award and when the money actually shows up.

As for where to look for those monies, federal agencies that have funded crystallography research include the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. You might also want to check out the American Crystallographic Association, whose Web site offers resources for researchers such as yourself. I would also advise searching funding databases such as GrantsNet, which contains information on grants available to non-U.S. citizens.

Although they do not award fellowships, the United States National Committee for Crystallography promotes "the advancement of the science of crystallography in the United States and throughout the world." You'll find a list of members on their Web site who may be able to advise you about funding opportunities in your area of interest.

You'll have to "present to the American consul, proof of sufficient funding for the duration of your stay," but your funding status is just one aspect of coming to the States. At the time of applying for a visa, you'll also have to show you have finalized the conditions of your position with the research institution where you wish to work. The U.S. Information Agency provides a comprehensive guide to studying in the U.S., including visa requirements. They recommend applying for visas once the terms of your position have been agreed upon by you and your future research institution. So, before you apply for the appropriate visa, you'll need to prove that you have a position ready and waiting, and that you have funds to sustain you.

A year is not a long time--especially when you have to write and defend your thesis at the same time that you're looking for postdoctoral funding in the States. But it is possible and can be done--as long as you get started now! Good luck!

--The GrantDoctor

Due to the high volume of questions received, The GrantDoctor cannot answer all queries on an individual basis. Look for an answer to your question published in this column soon! Thank you!

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