Read our COVID-19 research and news.

a swimmer diving into a pool
Credit: Klubovy/iStockphoto

Diving into a new place

As summer draws to an end, for many it’s time for new beginnings. Maybe you’re about to become the first in your family to go to college. Perhaps you’re embarking on a Ph.D. abroad, taking a postdoc in a different field, or setting up your first lab as a principal investigator (PI). Regardless of whether you are moving across the hall, across the world, or into a new field, starting a position or program in a new place can be daunting. It takes a certain amount of planning, soul-searching, and adaptability to make sure that the transition is successful. Knowing what to expect and learning from others who’ve been there already can help you hit the ground running. Here are some pointers.

For trainees

Credit: Robert Neubecker

Working my way out
by Jason Cantley, 5 August 2016
Jason Cantley describes his approach to a challenging situation many LGBTQ scientists face when starting out in a new place: deciding whether and how to come out to colleagues and advisers.

Show us the money
by Andy Tay, 17 June 2016
For young researchers with a new funding source, finding out about the details of where that money is coming from will help make sure that you won’t be left high and dry down the road.

Growth can come in phases
by He Fu, 22 April 2016
When starting a new project or a new phase of your career, it can seem like you’re not making progress as you focus on adjusting to your new circumstances—but this “lag phase” is an important part of the growth process.

Leaping into the unknown
by Jeremy C. Borniger, 13 November 2015
Jeremy Borniger’s transition from undergraduate studies in anthropology to a Ph.D. program in neuroscience required persistence and openness to change.

Credit: Robert Neubecker

Grad students behaving badly
by Adam Ruben, 31 July 2015
A humorous take reminds students what not to do when transitioning from the relative structure of college to the apparent freedom of grad school.

Breaking the Class Ceiling
by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2014
Working-class students often find themselves at a disadvantage when starting college, but they also possess inner strength that they can turn into a real advantage. 

Forging the Way for Other Minority Scientists
by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2013
Going from a minority-serving institution to a Ph.D. program at Harvard University was intimidating for Knatokie Ford, but she succeeded through hard work, support from tutors, and a desire to become a role model for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

No, You're Not an Impostor
by Lucas Laursen, 15 February 2008
Many early-career researchers—and established researchers, too—have to learn to cope with “impostor syndrome,” particularly when transitioning to a new career stage. 

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Starting Off on the Right Foot
by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 26 October 2007
Graduate students who are just settling into a new lab should use their first few days to get to know the department, formulate a working plan, and set good research habits.

Credit: imageBROKER / Alamy

Relocating With the Lab
by Alysia vandenBerg, 31 August 2007
When PIs choose to move to far-away institutions, young scientists must decide whether to go with their lab or arrange to stay at their old institution, sometimes at the risk of jeopardizing their research projects.

Mind Matters: Getting Yourself Mentored
by Irene S. Levine, 24 November 2006
It can be especially important for first-generation students, women, foreign students, and students from other minority backgrounds to seek mentorship early on.

Minority Admissions: Countering Cultural Blocks
by Anne Sasso, 10 March 2006
Having realistic perceptions and expectations of undergraduate life can help students from disadvantaged backgrounds enroll and persist in college.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Coping With Chronic Illness as a Science Trainee
by Irene S. Levine, 10 June 2005
Trainees living with serious long-term conditions need to consider whether and how to disclose them when they’re starting out in a new place.

Navigating the First Year of Graduate School
by Takita Sumter, 18 February 2005
Although she felt ill-prepared, Takita Sumter successfully transitioned into graduate school thanks to her mentors, time management skills, perseverance, and confidence.

For PIs

Thesis adviser horror stories
by Adam Ruben, 24 June 2015
New PIs should take a look at these bad adviser stories to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

Staffing labs for optimal productivity
by Elisabeth Pain, 4 March 2015
PIs who are building their research groups have to make a lot of tough decisions, including whom to hire. A study quantifying the impact of graduate students, postdocs, and technicians on lab productivity offers some pointers.

Credit: UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences - OCCS/Flickr

Managing a lab move
by Rachel Bernstein, 23 September 2014
When starting over in a new place, PIs must find out which of their grants and equipment are portable, arrange for their lab members to come along or stay behind, and be prepared to handle unexpected complications.

Business Sense: Starting an Academic Lab
by Sarah A. Webb, 17 July 2009
With your first academic position comes the opportunity to set up your own lab—with new financial needs and responsibilities.

At the Helm: Avoiding Management Mistakes
by Kathy Barker, 25 July 2003
Among the mistakes new PIs commonly make is not giving enough thought to whom to hire and letting the lab assume its own working style.

How to Hire Your First Lab Tech
by Paul Recchia, 26 November 1999
When choosing personnel to fill your empty lab, scientific know-how is important, but so is personality.

For international moves

Adaptability in life and work
by Amit Kumar, 26 August 2016
Adapting to life in a new country can be tough, but the skills you develop can also help you advance your research career.

Responsible research guidelines for the global scientist
by Elisabeth Pain, 18 February 2016
When moving to a new place, it is important to become familiar with potentially different research cultures, societal attitudes, and ethical regulations.

Credit: Robert Neubecker

The best decision I ever made
by Kamal J.K. Gandhi, 27 November 2015
Entomology professor Kamal Gandhi describes how she handled the challenges of leaving India for North America to pursue her research dreams.

Coming to America: Doing a Postdoc in the U.S.
by Lucas Laursen, 1 January 2010
Differences between the work environments and responsibilities given to postdocs in American and European academic research labs can come as a surprise to newcomers.

The Ups and Downs of Doing a Postdoc in Europe
by Lucas Laursen, 7 August 2009
Making a smooth transition to living and doing science in a foreign country requires dealing with logistics and adapting to a new environment.

Bouncing Back in a New Country
by Elisabeth Pain, 12 October 2007
After leaving Algeria for France for a master’s degree, Ahcène Bounceur had to adjust to cultural differences and work at night to make ends meet while pursuing his studies.

Mind Matters: Culture Shock
by Irene S. Levine, 20 April 2007
Settling in to a new culture can be tough, but there are some strategies that can help make the transition rewarding.

For returning scientists

You can return to research after a career break
by Elisabeth Pain, 20 October 2015
With determination and the right kind of support, scientists can restart their research careers, even after a prolonged absence.

Credit: L.Patrizi / iStockphoto

Accounting for career breaks
by Emily Nicholson, 15 May 2015
Senior lecturer Emily Nicholson’s strategy for explaining her time away from research on her CV helped her land the job she wanted.

Mind Matters: Back to Work After Baby
by Irene S. Levine, 30 April 2010
New moms returning to work face many sources of physical and emotional pressure, but they—along with their institutions—can make arrangements to minimize stress and maximize productivity.

Returning to Science
by Sarah A. Webb, 30 October 2009
Returning to research after an extended personal leave is rarely straightforward, but re-entry fellowships and part-time working arrangements can facilitate the transition.

Student-Veterans Come Marching Home: Their Return to Studies
by Alan Kotok, 6 June 2008
Student-veterans face some obstacles when transitioning to civilian and academic life, but they also bring some qualities likely to benefit their careers.

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers