Broaden Your Horizons in a Career Outside the US

Keeping with the international profile of the Biophysical Society, the Early Careers Committee organized the panel, Early Careers Outside the US, at the 2013 Annual Meeting with scientists from around the world discussing professional opportunities in their respective countries. The panelists, including Ben Corry, Australian National University, Neelanjana Sengupta, National Chemical Laboratory, India, Leandro Barbosa, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Soren Preus, Aarhus University, Denmark, gave attendees a broad view of international opportunities.


Corry highlighted that titles for scientific positions differ from those in the US—for example, a senior lecturer in Australia is similar to a professor in the US (tenure included)—important to keep in mind while searching and applying for jobs.

As a smaller country, the population of scientists is also proportionally smaller. Considering this, Australia has done well in the average number of papers per scientists, average number of citations, and other markers of scientific productivity. Still, it can be tougher to break into a smaller market, where there are fewer groups of scientists working in each research area.

There are two ways to get a postdoc in Australia. One is similar to the process in the US: get hired by a PI, which can be done by researching interesting professors and reaching out to them. The other, not available in the US, is through a fellowship funded by the Australian government. You essentially write a grant proposal to cover your own salary. Having the support of a professor you would like to work with while writing your grant is necessary. Whichever way you get a job, salaries tend to be good, even at the postdoc level, and working conditions are very good. Postdocs in Australia are considered full-time staff and get appropriate benefits.

The market in Australia is quite competitive, and though it is opening to international applicants, it is not fully accessible. The Australian Research Council is totally open, while the National Health and Medical Research Council is slowly beginning to accept more international applications. If you are looking for industry positions, it can be more difficult, as there are not many large companies doing research in Australia. There is also a smaller number of start-ups in the biotechnology sector than in the US.


Jumping continents to Brazil, Barbosa describes a country that has recently undergone many changes, opening 20–25 universities in the past several years. New universities have led to increased opportunities for young people looking for postdocs—there are always postdoctoral positions open, according to Barbosa. Brazil is working on encouraging collaboration and boosting productivity. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently instituted a fellowship program awarding students one-year research grants to go abroad and study if they agree to return to Brazil to aid in scientific development at home. To apply for a position at a public university, you will need to take an exam, and your credentials will be reviewed by a committee made up of five professors from the universities to which you are applying. Postdoc salaries are set by the government, and investigators cannot pay salaries out of the project budget, meaning that regardless of the wealth of the lab, all postdocs are paid equally. Despite this rule, economic disparity around the country has resulted in wealthier areas maintaining higher levels of productivity and more competitive researchers—though the country is working to homogenize. Additionally, while salaries may be lower when compared directly to the US, it is important to remember that the cost of living in Brazil is also lower.


Moving to colder climates, Preus highlighted that in Denmark the country’s productivity, which, as measured by publications per researcher, is higher than in the US. Part of this productivity comes from the large amount of interaction and collaboration between Denmark, Sweden, and other Scandinavian labs. Many projects and papers have seven or more co-authors, leading to high numbers of papers per scientist. The collaboration is made possible by the comparatively relaxed and collegial environment among scientists—lab results are often posted on an internal wiki and can be shared with colleagues working on other projects.

When looking to hire, professors must post available jobs publicly, and accept and consider all applications before hiring the candidate. Networking is helpful. Even though you have to apply to listed positions, unsolicited applications are more likely to be turned down. If you’re set on one lab, it may help to apply to positions just outside of your specialty—the lab will keep good CVs on file to pull if something in your area becomes available. As a Danish postdoc you can also apply for grants from the European Union, which values high levels of collaboration. Additionally, there are several scientific companies in Denmark currently hiring for research positions, providing openings in the tight scientific job market.

Though taxes are comparatively high in most Scandinavian countries, PhD students and postdocs can still earn a comfortable living. Plus, with those high taxes come many government benefits, including comprehensive health care coverage.


While the work culture is transitioning, working in India is still going to be a big adjustment from working in the US. An added bonus for English speakers—even with 26 different languages and many more dialects recognized in India—English is the primary language of science in the country.

In your job search, networking is helpful, but you don’t have to know someone to get a job. To find a postdoc position or fellowship, look at postings on To apply for more traditional professorial positions, find an institute that fits your needs, give them a research proposal that includes your financial requirements and what you would teach, and then wait for next steps. Once you are hired, you will have time to set up a lab and build your curriculum to attract students both to your institute and lab.

There are few private universities, so most of the research is state-funded, and the positions are salaried in pay bands, based on experience. Regardless of location, institution, or what you are researching, you are in a pay band. Like Brazil, there is less collaboration in India than in the other countries represented in this article, though it is being encouraged.

Even though the research is primarily government-funded, there is lots of funding available, there are many new institutes opening, and the country regards research/academia highly.

Those interested in research career options in India should make note of available positions that are wholly- or co-sponsored by the Indian government. For example, the Ramalingaswami fellowship sponsors research for Indian scientists who seek to return to their home country with specific goals in mind. The Department of Biotechnology-Wellcome Trust fellowship is another such prestigious fellowship. These fellowships usually do not require a permanent position, but rather an institute and department willing to host the candidate for the fellowship period. Fellows have the option of applying for a permanent position with the host institute towards the end of the tenure, which is typically five years.

May 2013 Table of Contents