Tell us something a postdoc said or did during an interview that made you sure he/she wasn't right for your lab.

One of this issue's feature articles explores the secrets of hiring good postdoctoral fellows, calling them "the backbone of a lab." But not every postdoc who applies for a spot is a good fit, and the interview process is key to finding the best match for a given lab. Here, four scientists share moments when they knew a potential postdoc wouldn't work out.

Leslie B. Vosshall

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
The Rockefeller University

I prescreen my postdoc applicants with a written questionnaire before they set foot here for an interview. I ask potential postdocs what kind of project they would like to work on, among other questions. If the answer shows a fairly standard approach to problems and lacks creativity or a sense of excitement, I pass on the candidate. If the person comes up with projects that are in progress in the lab (but not generally publicized, meaning they have guessed what we are doing), or comes up with new interesting ideas, I will definitely consider inviting them for an interview.

Leonard I. Zon

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
Children's Hospital Boston

I interviewed a postdoc candidate from France. He seemed pretty well qualified and was nice. At the end of the interview, the postdoc said he had one other request: "In France, we go on vacation in the summer. I must request 5 weeks of vacation per year, and that all of those weeks are to be taken in August–September." I must say that I was taken aback and couldn't hire him.

Bradley Cairns

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
University of Utah School of Medicine

My lab utilizes genomics to study transcription and chromatin, and statisticians are becoming very valuable for the analysis of genomics data. One postdoc we interviewed last year had been working on statistics involved in air pollution and traffic patterns and had done very good statistical work. When he arrived for his interview, however, he assumed we had read all of his and his mentor's papers, yet he had not read a single paper of ours. When challenged on this, he said he was confident he could master all the literature on vertebrate development, epigenetics, and transcription in a month, two at the most. To justify, he said that statisticians (himself in particular) were much smarter than molecular biologists. We are still laughing about that interview.

Lily Jan

HHMI INVESTIGATOR
University of California, San Francisco

One potential postdoc appeared to pay more attention to whether studies—both his and ours—were published in high-profile journals than to the content of the studies themselves. This left us unsure that this very accomplished young scientist was right for our lab—though it's always difficult to gauge based on brief interactions. On the other hand, our experience has been very good with postdocs who came without flashy publications and interviewed well.

Photos: Vosshall: Allan Zepeda / AP, ©HHMI, Zon: Courtesy of Leonard Zon, Cairns: Paul Fetters, Jan: Fred Mertz

Scientist Profile

Investigator
The Rockefeller University
Molecular Biology, Neuroscience
Investigator
Boston Children's Hospital
Developmental Biology, Genetics
Investigator
University of Utah
Biochemistry, Developmental Biology
Investigator
University of California, San Francisco
Biophysics, Neuroscience
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