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About Sickkids
About SickKids

June 27, 2013

SickKids’ PI Prep School prepares post-doctoral research fellows for the working world

By Hannah Sunderani

As the job market becomes more competitive, SickKids post-doctoral research fellows are feeling the pressure. Many are getting ready to enter the research job market, hoping to one day lead their own lab with their own grant-funded research projects.  This year SickKids introduced PI Prep School, a program providing post-doctoral fellows with the dos and don’ts when applying for a principal investigator (PI) position through a real-life simulation.

PI Prep School began in April gathering 28 post-doctoral fellows anxious to enter the research job market. Participants were asked to submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, and a detailed research plan describing their future objectives. The PI Prep School panel reviewed submissions and gave constructive feedback. Participants were then asked to attend the “Interview Day” on June 14, for further job preparation and networking opportunities. Three participants were selected to be “interviewees”, and participated in a scientific lecture and a formal interview, known respectively as job talks and chalk talks, in front of the panel and the audience.

The idea for PI Prep School was the inspiration of Dr. John Brumell, Senior Scientist in the Cell Biology program, who came up with the idea at a meeting with members of the Sickkids Research Training Centre (RTC) and its management committee. “Often PI candidates look great on paper, but they aren’t ready for the interview process,” said Brumell. “We wanted to create a program to strengthen their all-around job search skills and give them a competitive edge in the job market.”

Participants found the prep school extremely useful. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity” said one of the interviewees Daniela Ardelean, from the Molecular Structure & Function program. “I’m receiving a lot of constructive feedback, which I know will better prepare me for a real interview.”

The other two interviewees, Leanne Wybenga-Groot from the Cell Biology program and Amy Wong from the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program, were also thankful for the experience. “This process gives us the chance to learn what recruiters are looking for,” said Wong. “I’m really looking forward to the chalk talks because it’s something we have never experienced as post-doctoral fellows.”

Chalk talks were administered by the PI Prep School panel, including Dr. Gabrielle Boulianne, Senior Scientist in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program and Associate Chief, Research Career Development. “This is the time for the candidate to convince us to hire them,” she said. “We want to hear what makes them unique and why they are worth investing in.”Boulianne also noted the valuable networking opportunity the program offers. “It gives the fellows a chance to build community with people they are likely to work with in the future,” said Boulianne.

The PI Prep School panel also included RTC management committee members Tiyabba Jiwani, editor of the Training Post, Dr. Ian Scott, Dr. Roman Melnyk and Dr. Robert Jankov. Feedback for interviewees was also given by Blake Richards, Jay Kay and Jing Wang, who are three SickKids post-doctoral fellows that recently landed PI positions. These young research stars offered insight on their recent experience in the job search process from the perspective of a post-doctoral fellow.

There are plans in the Research Institute to continue this program for years to come. “We want our research fellows to feel supported by SickKids, and to feel confident when entering the competitive job market,” said Brumell. “We’re looking forward to the feedback from this year’s participants to make the program even better for next year.”