Category Archives: Science Careers


Internships Boost Postdocs’ Skills, Worldliness, and Marketability

20131021_LLaursenPostdocInternship_KellyAndringa_160x160When Kelly Andringa began to get calls from faculty anxious about their paperwork, she wondered whether she’d done her assignment right. As a 2-days-a-week intern on the conflict-of-interest review board at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), she had written a Web-based tutorial explaining to faculty how to properly fill out compliance forms. Her main job, however, was as a postdoc in environmental health at the same university; administration was new to her. But, as more calls came in, Andringa realized that the concerns of most of those faculty members were unwarranted: They had completed the forms correctly. “I was quite proud,” she recalls. “I felt good about communicating it well.”

Andringa is one of a small but growing cohort of scientists who take time off from postdocs to complete internships outside of academia. In its latest survey of postdocs, Vitae, an organization based in Cambridge that supports the career development of U.K. research staff, found that 9% of respondents have done placements or internships outside of academia, up from 5% just 2 years earlier. Andringa’s internship helped her get a job in her desired field: After finishing her postdoc in the winter of 2009, she first took a program management job at UAB before moving to her present grant administration job there.

Many postdocs use internships, as Andringa did, as bridges to jobs outside research, but some continue on as researchers and are better rounded for it, says David Taylor, who, after doing a postdoc at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), completed an internship in the hospital’s administration department. His internship, too, led to a job: Taylor now facilitates internships for CHOP’s current postdocs. Whether you leave research or stay in, internships can give postdocs a chance to look at their academic work with outsiders’ eyes and position themselves better to move forward in their careers.

Applying skills to new sectors

Physiologist Sara Borniquel of the Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Stockholm, Sweden, is not yet sure what she will do when her postdoc is over, but she is ready to leave academia. A couple of years ago, Borniquel attended a seminar on internships for postdocs offered by the KI careers office. The Spanish native recalls reasoning, “I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years and this seems like a good opportunity to widen my knowledge and learn a bit more about Sweden.” Borniquel has since done two 3-month internships, one at Karolinska Institutet Innovations AB and the other at Stockholm-Uppsala Life Science. “I learned that I’m not just a scientist. I have another area of knowledge, other skills, which I can apply in other areas.” She now feels comfortable interviewing experts and preparing market-research reports.

Vitae development director Alison Mitchell, says that companies see internships as “an opportunity to have some innovation, new solutions, new resources, and increase their visibility and relationship with the university—and also recruit new talent.” Postdocs offer more experience and specialized skills than doctoral students and undergraduates do, and are closer to the job market, she says.

Internships are a good way to get your foot in the door. “We do give a preference for individuals who have been an intern at IBM,” says Jim Spohrer, who is the director of IBM’s global university programs in San Jose, California. This is because such applicants know the IBM culture and the company has a good idea of how they will perform. Altogether, IBM’s worldwide research labs host between 350 and 400 interns per year. It isn’t clear what proportion of interns become IBM employees, but three of the 10 advanced-degreed participants in IBM’s Zurich and Haifa-based Great Minds program are now IBM employees, says IBM communications manager Chris Sciacca.

According to Spohrer, postdocs are more likely than doctoral students to match the company’s ideal employee hiring profile: a so-called “T-shaped” professional, with both depth of training in one area and a breadth of experience, such as having worked in different countries or having both scientific and business skills. While an internship may or may not lead directly to a job, it can still make you more employable.

What will my principal investigator (PI) say?

Andringa, who knew from the start of her postdoc that she might not want to become an academic researcher, made sure to tell her supervisor of her intentions during her first interview so that there were no surprises later. That made things easier for her, but many postdocs may not start looking around at other opportunities until after they’ve taken up their posts. For them, an early step toward pursuing an internship should be a conversation with their PI.

It can be a tough sell. Postdoc advisers generally expect their postdocs to spend most of their time doing their research, leading to new insights and publications. Why should they allow key lab personnel to go off and do an internship?

One thing postdocs can do to convince their PIs is offer to keep the research going. During her 3-month internship, Andringa was away from the lab just 2 days each week. Borniquel did two 3-month internships, both full-time, but she had two advantages: She received funding for her internships from the KI careers office, which helped compensate her supervisor for her time away, and her supervisor was “pretty open.” Even so, she offered to work some weekends. At one time CHOP compensated PIs for postdocs’ time away, Taylor says, but due to budget cuts the program’s administrators now make all their internships part-time so that they’re less disruptive.

Another way to convince your PI, Mitchell suggests, is to offer to extend the postdoc to make up for the time you’ll be missing. “It’s got to be done in an appropriate way so they’re still making progress on their postdoctoral research,” Spohrer says.

But, while it’s important to reassure PIs they are not going to lose their workers (at least not completely), postdocs can also make a case that their exposure to new work environments is a benefit to PIs. An internship can, for example, bring new ways of thinking into the lab, Mitchell says. Taylor adds that, given the current job market, many academic supervisors understand the need to place their postdocs in nonresearch posts. “I think that reflects to an extent the way the biomedical community is going,” with researchers ending up in a wider variety of jobs, Taylor says.

Finally, both the postdoc and the PI must ensure that the resulting arrangement satisfies the requirements of the contract with the research’s funders.

So, how do I do it?

When Borniquel went searching for internships, a career office identified interested companies and agencies. Andringa’s university had a similar program. Postdocs who don’t have access to such programs can start by identifying people in their network who could help them find a placement. “Very often it’s [after] talking within academia that the opportunities arise,” Mitchell says.

Postdocs should choose their internship with care, aiming to maximize the career benefits of their time away from research. CHOP interns spend a month exploring possible projects and then 5 months carrying them out, Taylor says. Even if a researcher has identified a target company, they should research that company and find out what projects are afoot and whom within the company they might work with, and come to the interview with questions, Spohrer says.

Finding a placement is only the beginning. Spohrer advises that postdocs maintain an inquisitive attitude throughout their internships. The researchers who get the most out of their placements at IBM attend colloquia, shadow a range of colleagues, and seek out mentors, he says.

Structure can make the experience more valuable, says Mitchell; she recommends a discussion ahead of time about what the various parties are expecting from the internship and a final review at the end. Taylor’s internship was capped with a presentation, which he says is a good way to take stock of what you’ve learned.

An internship is an opportunity for postdocs to broaden their experience and outlook. “It made me more aware of what was out there,” Andringa says. As a result of the internship, her professional network, credentials, and job opportunities expanded. And when the time came to apply for a job, people in the administration office where she worked could vouch for her understanding of administrators’ roles at the university.

“Everybody going through the program has the opportunity to find a new niche,” Taylor says. “Even if they’ve stayed in research, they’ve found it very positive.”

First published by Science Careers [html] [pdf]


Alternative Research Metrics

Most scientific researchers know the agony of waiting to hear about the status of a submitted manuscript. They are eager to change the phrase “manuscript submitted” on a grant application or curriculum vitae to “in press” in advance of some crucial deadline. Publications in prestigious journals—not necessarily the articles themselves but the fact of their existence—are the established and universal, albeit imperfect, way of claiming credit for the scientific work you’ve done, and there’s always a delay.

But when sociologist Margarita Mooney of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently applied for a grant, she was able to take instant credit for one aspect of her work: the readership of her blog, as documented by Google Analytics. When she told the review committee that her team blog, Black, White and Gray, had 15,000 page views in its first month, rising to 20,000 views in later months, they were impressed, she recalls. Blog readership is not a traditional measure of scholarship, but the committee, which was also evaluating public impact, rewarded her for it. She won the grant.

Internet-enabled media analytics have been around for decades, but they are just beginning to spread into academia. As new scientific metrics win wider acceptance, they may help tell a more complete story of researchers’ productivity than do traditional metrics alone.


Measuring science results isn’t new. Librarian Eugene Garfield began publishing indices of scientific journals and citations in the 1950s, and today Thomson Reuters and others carry on the tradition. Citations—the number of peer-reviewed papers that refer to a researcher’s peer-reviewed, published articles—is a handy proxy for the attention granted to a candidate’s work by colleagues. Funding bodies and university promotion committees, among others, use citations to evaluate scientists and the impact of their work.

But citation metrics have shortcomings. For one thing, citations are slow to appear, so the impact of a piece of work can’t really be evaluated until it has been around for a while; the same problem makes it difficult to compare researchers at different stages of their careers. When they finally start to trickle in, citations may not reflect the quality of the work; an article that includes a significant mistake could attract numerous refutations, for example, pumping up the number of citations. Another problem, says cybermetrics researcher Mike Thelwall of the University of Wolverhampton, City Campus, in the United Kingdom, is that citations fail to capture many research outputs, many of which—like data sets contributed to digital repositories—are new.

Alternative metrics

An example is Thomson Reuters’s Data Citation Index (DCI), which allows scientists to cite and take credit for their contributions to data repositories. DCI fills an unmet need, says Joshua Greenberg, program director of digital information technology at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York City. “We’d like to be able to assess the impact of these data sets, but citation practices aren’t yet standard, and there may well be valuable uses for data that don’t show up in the formal literature.”

But it’s not just new outputs that challenge traditional metrics. It’s also new kinds of attention. As science-specific social media services mature, and as scientists adopt social media tools such as Twitter to disseminate their work, a wide range of new metrics become possible. Sophisticated data-trawling tools can detect and collate a wide variety of different kinds of “citations” of work published online, beyond those listed in the references section of peer-reviewed scholarly articles: links to the article from elsewhere on the Web, tweets that mention it, the number of times it was read, and the number of comments in various Web-based media, from blogs to science-focused community sites.

One advantage that most of these new metrics share is speed. “I think the biggest change is you can get a faster idea of what impact your publications or even your ideas are having,” says computer scientist Paul Groth of Vrije University Amsterdam, who studies scientific metrics.

“Nobody really knows exactly what it means,” says Euan Adie, a founder of Altmetric, which offers new-metrics services to its clients—”but what we’re scoring is attention, it’s not quality. It’s literally how much attention it’s getting online.” Altmetric, Adie says, is not a substitute for peer review. “At this stage it’s more about collecting the data and seeing what’s in there,” he says.

There is, however, a way to inject an assessment of quality into Internet-based metrics. Large institutions such as Harvard University are experimenting with metrics sold by Mendeley, an online research-collaboration platform and academic database. Mendeley’s metrics include how often papers by certain researchers, or in certain journals, are downloaded, shared with colleagues, and commented on. Restricting metrics to platforms frequented by scholars ensures at least some of the credibility of traditional metrics that count only peer-reviewed sources.

Jason Priem, an information scientist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an author of altmetrics: a manifesto, thinks measuring the attention of scientists is the best available tool for measuring quality. “Some people say, ‘I don’t care about popular science; I only care about quality science,’ ” Priem says. “The only measure we have [of science quality] is the consensus of the scientific community. One could call that popularity; one could call it expert consensus.”

Complement, not competition

Research institutions are testing a variety of metrics alongside traditional ones. Thelwall is working on an E.U.-funded project called Acumen to construct a template for a kind of super-CV for researchers, which would include measurements of a researcher’s impact on the Web. In June, the U.S. National Institutes of Health issued a call for improvements in the biographical sketch that it requires grant applicants to submit. A future sketch, the NIH notice suggested, could document a wide range of research outputs including “peer-reviewed publications or other types of scientific output such as data sets, videos, crystal coordinates, patents, licenses, or documented changes to standard medical practice or government policies.” In October, the U.S. National Science Foundation revised its grant proposal guidelines along similar lines. Greenberg, who oversees a $125,000 grant to a project called ImpactStory, which was founded by Priem along with Heather Piwowar, says, “In the near term at least I’d think of these metrics as complementary to traditional metrics, rather than replacements.”

Meanwhile, officials at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have encouraged Mooney to include in her tenure package both traditional metrics and measures of her Web-based impact—including the measure of page views her blog receives. The university is reviewing its promotion procedures to incorporate more expansive measures of research output, but Mooney doesn’t expect it to abandon traditional metrics.

Alternative metrics organizations and proponents often use the word “story” to describe their final, ideal product, instead of words such as “metric” or “score.” It’s a recognition that even an instant array of numbers will always be more persuasive embedded in a seductive story. “I really like the idea of using a suite of metrics, together with a narrative, to try and persuade the world what you’re doing, why it’s important, and why it’s successful,” Thelwall says.

First published by Science Careers [html] [pdf]

Asking the Public for Money

Postdoctoral research fellow David Kipping has often seen other astronomers don smart jackets when attending meetings or giving presentations, especially when they knew that funding powers-that-be would also be there. So before heading to one of his science presentations last year, Kipping pulled on a smart jacket. His next moves, however, were less conventional. He climbed the stairs to the roof of the Perkins building at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, pointed his laptop’s video camera at himself and, with the center’s 9-inch Clark telescope dome in the background, made a science sales pitch directly to the public. The video, which appears on YouTube and on the science crowd-funding Web site, raised $12,247. The pitch was to buy and install a small supercomputer, which he would name for the biggest donor, to speed up data processing on a search for moons in other solar systems.

Direct public funding of science in return for recognition is nothing new: A century ago Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton named dogs on one of his expeditions for the British schools that helped pay for it. He also named a lifeboat for his biggest donor. Today’s online platforms like, however, may be more efficient than Shackleton’s fundraising, which took him 2 years. Kipping secured his funding during a 30-day campaign and got the check within weeks of completion. For now, the amounts of cash raised this way remain small—Kipping’s funding is typical for online science-funding campaigns. But it is extra money for scientists strapped for funds, provided they know how to navigate the opportunities and pitfalls.

What is crowd-funding?

Scientists using crowd-funding sites put together an online profile describing their project, their target amount, and the rewards they are willing to offer to donors. Some sites allow anyone to initiate campaigns, but others sift through scientific proposals and try to screen out those which do not have academic affiliations or are obvious quackery. Some offer advice and promotion.

Then the countdown, often from 30 to 90 days, begins. If, during that time, donors pledge to meet the target amount, the site charges the pledgers and passes along the money, minus an 8% to 10% commission, to the proposer, who then begins making good on the rewards and research. In order to encourage accurate goal-setting, some sites also allow researchers to collect donations that fall short of their target, but at a higher commission.

“It’s outside the standard procedure of funding that we learn as graduate students,” Kipping says. He did not have to go through a traditional funding body, such as NASA, which funds his salary and an annual research supplement, nor did his proposal encounter expert peer review. But he did engage in a monthlong, online question-and-answer process with potential public funders. Kipping says they asked “really smart questions, … particularly on the computing side,” challenging, for example, his plan to use clusters rather than distributed computing. While he did not change his supercomputer’s design as a result of those questions, he says he could imagine doing so given a good idea.

Current success rates are hard to estimate. co-founder Matt Salzberg claims that about 80% of the campaigns the company has selected and promoted since its launch in March have met their funding goals. RocketHub and Kickstarter report rates in the 30% to 40% range, depending on the category. But in all cases in science, “We’re talking about a tiny amount of money,” says astronomer Giovanna Tinetti, who co-supervised Kipping’s Ph.D. research at University College London. For now, advises scientists to aim for $10,000 to $50,000.

An emerging platform

Online crowd-funding is still in its infancy, especially in science. Some researchers are concerned that the crowd-funding process could allow weaker proposals to win funding because it bypasses peer review. In a blog post last year, biomedical researcher Matthew Hirschey of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, also questioned whether crowd-funding was an efficient use of a scientist’s fundraising time and whether it was a sustainable funding mechanism.

But users say crowd-funding is earning a place in the current funding landscape. The money Kipping obtained through crowd-funding allows him to speed up an ongoing project for which he already had funding from NASA. Crowd-funding can also allow researchers to meet needs unmet by conventional funding sources. Researchers sometimes need only small amounts of money, but today’s funding structure is such that “it’s paradoxically sometimes harder to get smaller amounts of funding” than it is to obtain the funds to run an entire laboratory, paleontologist Alton Dooley says. Dooley, a curator at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, was able to raise $4000 through for fieldwork to save fossil whales in Virginia. Kipping says that crowd-funding can also be a way to pilot ideas that might later be developed into full-fledged grant proposals to more traditional funders. “Because [crowd-funding] is funding small projects, it’s got its own niche,” he says.

Winning over the crowd

What you first need for successful crowd-funding is a clearly defined project, says ornithologist Thomas Hart of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. When using RocketHub to fund a prototype penguin-monitoring Web cam, Hart found that the public likes it when “you have a clear, defined” goal, he says. The ability to communicate your project in a clear, concise, and compelling way is also paramount. And not only in the written form: Kickstarter, for example, tells campaigners that projects with videos succeed about 50% of the time while those without only achieve 30% success.

Perks count, too. Filmmaker Lucas McNelly, who keeps statistics and sometimes consults on crowd-funding campaigns, found that filmmakers tend to get the most donations in exchange for a DVD of their film, regardless of where it is on the donation scale. Scientists need to think of what perks will have a similar, irresistible appeal, he says. In addition to naming the computer for the biggest donor, Kipping will also sign artists’ renditions of exomoons or name donors in the acknowledgement section of future papers. Dooley promised his donors casts of fossil bones from the excavation.

Whatever perks campaigners decide to offer, they should understand that crowd-funding efforts are not strict market transactions but rather are based on personal relationships. The first donors are often members of the scientist’s network, with unknown members of the public joining in when the project gains momentum. As a potential funder, McNelly says, “I’d want to get to know the people doing this work so that I could root for them to accomplish whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish.” Kipping says that responding to the public’s queries during the campaign took about the same amount of time he spends checking his e-mail every morning. Donors often expect the relationship to keep going during and after the project. Dooley will use his existing blog to keep in touch with donors during the fieldwork and afterward when he’s analyzing his data.

Navigating the crowd

If cultivating relationships with donors is novel to many scientists, so is releasing their research ideas to the public before peer-reviewed publication—and formal acknowledgement of who came first. Those with patentable ideas may also wonder how much they can give away without losing control of their intellectual property (IP). “There is actually historical precedent to warrant such caution,” Kipping says. The dangers are not the same for all scientists, however. “In our case, the idea of looking for an exomoon is something many groups are trying to accomplish and it is widely known we are one of the teams leading this effort, so I had no concerns about discussing this plan with the public, too,” Kipping adds. Being scooped is also “perhaps of less concern in a field such as paleontology, where the results are often tied to particular specimens or locations,” Dooley adds.

Another crowd-funding platform, FundaGeek, offers campaigners the ability to restrict the visibility of their campaign to registered potential donors who have agreed to a non-disclosure statement. They also offer an IP guide. Researchers considering weighing how much to share ahead of publication can also look to the Open Science movement for useful discussions and guidance.

Researchers can also seek legal and logistical help from their institutions. Universities and museums, for instance, have a long tradition of raising money from crowds, even if their platforms predate the Internet. Dooley says he consulted his museum’s marketing department, which promoted his project via its Twitter and Facebook accounts. Other universities have promoted campaigns by their researchers to attract press attention and online donors. Harvard University helped Kipping administer his crowd-sourced funding as a gift rather than a grant so he would not have to pay high overhead fees.

But crowd-funding is so new that some universities and institutions may be less prepared to support their researchers in getting crowd-funding. They may be unsure how to handle money generated through crowd-funding, or worry that crowd-funding might interfere with their own fundraising campaigns, wrote ecologist Jai Ranganathan of the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a post. In 2011, Ranganathan co-founded the #SciFund Challenge using the general-purpose crowd-funding site RocketHub as an experiment to test whether scientists can use crowd-funding to support their research. Ranganathan advises scientists to contact their university administrators early on to smooth the way.

Because crowd-funding bypasses some of the traditional gatekeepers and shrinks the distance between researchers and the public, it warrants care. But the users Science Careers reached report no criticism from their institutions or peers. Kipping’s colleagues encouraged him to pursue the campaign when he discussed it with them, and Dooley’s institution adopted a “let us know how it goes” attitude, he says. After trying it, the crowd-funded scientists found no downsides, and they praised the easy application process, short turnaround time, and extra money. “If the science is good then it’s always good when it’s funded,” Tinetti says.

First published by Science Careers [html] [pdf]

How To Avoid Retirement

In Japan late last year I met a professor who moved to Tokyo to avoid mandatory retirement at his institute in Kyoto. My story about how to stay in academia past your nominal retirement date appeared in this week’s Science Careers [html]. Here it is:

When biochemist Anthony Norman earned tenure at the University of California (UC), Riverside, he thought he’d never have to apply for a job again. But that was before he retired.

Norman, a professor emeritus, continues to run the laboratory he started in 1963. But he recently became a professor of the Graduate Division, a title reserved for retirees who “are fully engaged in research and/or other departmental and campus activities,” his new appointment letter says. Norman, who will draw his pension instead of a salary, believes the new position will help his post-retirement research career. “It used to be that when you retired your title became X emeritus. That doesn’t help you when you write up a grant application,” Norman says. In contrast to professor emeritus, professors of the Graduate Division prove their value every 3 years by passing the same departmental merit review used to grant pay raises to regular faculty members. “We have to jump through the same hoops as everyone else,” he says.

Some universities, such as Norman’s UC Riverside, are changing their policies to harness the skills of aging researchers. Others are not. The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and now the United Kingdom have all banned mandatory retirement. But Japan and many European governments still allow employers and funding bodies to restrict access to employment or funding opportunities for researchers eligible for retirement pensions. In response, some researchers leave before their universities ask them to.

One is immunologist Klaus Rajewsky. When he faced mandatory retirement in 2001 from the University of Cologne in Germany, Rajewsky moved to Harvard Medical School in Boston, where he continues to work full-time as an endowed chair in pediatrics and a professor of pathology. Next year, Rajewsky plans to return to Germany, where some institutions are making it easier for exceptional retirement-age researchers to stay active.

By any other name

One way to put off retirement is to obtain one of the emerging class of contracts that enable researchers to continue to work after retirement, assuming your institution offers them. The professor of the Graduate Division position at UC Riverside, for example, is very flexible, Norman says. A similar position at UC Berkeley, known as professor of the Graduate School, allows senior researchers to retain their colleagues’ respect by letting them focus on what they’re good at, says Jack Kirsch, a 76-year-old biophysical chemist at UC Berkeley, who retired from his departmental professorship at age 71 and took the title of professor of the Graduate School. Kirsch continues to pursue research and has started teaching a freshman seminar on art. “Clearly, I don’t have the influence I used to,” Kirsch says. But “people still come to me to ask about enzymes.”

Some European countries with a default retirement age, an age above which employers can force staff into retirement, have proposed alternatives to traditional retirement. In Germany, institutes such as the Helmholtz Centres and states such as Niedersachsen are offering research fellowships to researchers who have retired from their official jobs. In the Netherlands, sociologist Siegwart Lindenberg of the University of Groningen negotiated a 10-year extension that started at age 65, his university’s default retirement age. He is paid from his pension and has a research grant from the university. He remains eligible to apply for new grants, though he believes that “the chance of getting them is lower once you are above 65.”

Lindenberg started talking to his departmental colleagues 2 years before his impending retirement. “The reaction was, ‘No, we can’t do that because it’s against the rules,’ ” he recalls. It was against the rules, but it was not against the law: The Netherlands allows workers to continue working beyond age 65. Lindenberg presented his dean with evidence of how he was still useful to the university, including a list of recent publications and continued invitations to collaborate. It took about a year to turn his dean into an ally and another year to persuade the university to agree to an unusual contract that allows him to focus on his research. “When you stay on, they let you concentrate on your stronger points rather than on [departmental administration] duties,” he says.

Such new roles offer professors a chance to redefine the final years of their careers. They are encouraged to recognize their limits and abide by them. Lindenberg, for example, says he won’t take on new Ph.D. students anymore but will help supervise those of his colleagues. Sacrificing some power to younger colleagues may be a fair price to pay to keep doing research, Kirsch suggests. “In a way, it hurts your ego to lose power, but it’s as it should be.”

Jumping ship — with a lifeline

Some places still enforce mandatory retirement policies, or at least apply pressure. Sometimes the pressure is informal: Colleagues suggest that a senior professor hand over the reins to a particular course, Kirsch says, or they stop offering to collaborate on research projects. Other times the pressure comes from the national legal framework or from institutions’ standard practices. Rajewsky was offered an opportunity to stay at Cologne and keep his lab space, but the offer was subject to short-term approvals by his colleagues. He refused.

In such cases, the best options are elsewhere, at times within the same country. In Japan, most national universities force researchers to retire at 65, but there are some exceptions. At Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, neurophysiologist Minoru Kimura faced mandatory retirement at 63. He left when he was 62 for Tamagawa University in Tokyo, which made him director of its Brain Science Institute and won’t ask him to retire until he is 68. “Many active people are unhappy to stop working,” Kimura says.

Making a successful move requires a lot of logistical planning. Kimura brought colleagues and laboratory equipment to Tamagawa. It helped that he was already collaborating with people there and that two of his postdocs were eager to follow because “it is not easy to find a different institute in the same field,” he says. Things went so smoothly that “2 months was enough for me to restart in this institute.” Now he is working at least as hard as he was before.

Some researchers who left home to avoid mandatory retirement are finding opportunities to come back. Regional governments are starting to reconsider rules and offer workarounds. Last year, one such change allowed Rajewsky, aged 74, to accept an offer to return. He insisted on one condition, which his new institution, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, granted: “I would not go back to a job which had a time limit.”

The keys to finding, obtaining, and moving smoothly into post-retirement jobs, older researchers say, are strong connections with colleagues and a compelling track record. Bringing in your own funding can also help: Rajewsky will return to Germany with a 5-year, €2.5 million Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council. Outside offers also can remind your institution of your value, says Lindenberg, who obtained a concurrent part-time post at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Still, he says, “a better strategy is to show that you’re still very valuable to the university” by presenting a portfolio and a plan for how you’ll contribute to your department.

Further information for senior researchers

The Max Planck Institutes in Germany support senior fellows and so do some individual Helmholtz Centres. The German region of Niedersachsen also supports some senior researchers.

In the United Kingdom, the University of Cambridge has an agreement for retired researchers to hold grants.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compiles pension age data by country

Releasing the Potentials of Senior Scholars and Scientists: Emerging Productivity in a New ERA, co-edited by Henk A. Becker, Johannes J. F. Schroots