All labs at Janelia are internally funded at a level that allows scientists to pursue ambitious research programs. As a result, Janelia postdocs are free of grant writing and administrative responsibilities, which allows them to devote their energy and creativity to challenging, high-impact research.
Janelia offers a variety of opportunities for young scientists to further their scientific training and professional development including assistance with CVs, guidance on fellowship, grant, and faculty position applications, as well as several structured programs, including the following:
Grant writing: Intensive hands-on workshop on Aims Page writing with extensive feedback from a professional grants editor.
Annual Poster Palooza: A workshop on poster design, followed by personalized poster coaching by an expert consultant, and culminating with a poster feedback session with fellow Janelians.
Junior Scientist Seminar Series: Janelia postdocs sign up for an opportunity to give a presentation with written feedback from a diverse audience followed by a detailed debriefing from a group of peers and Janelia Group Leaders.
ChIRP (Chalk Talk your Independent Research Program): Individually tailored 6-week programs providing extensive coaching on the process of preparing and presenting an independent research program using the chalk-talk format. The program also provides an opportunity for junior postdocs to attend and experience chalk-talk feedback sessions.
Careers Beyond the Bench Speaker Series: Ph.D. trained scientists who have moved into careers ranging from venture capital to journal editing to policy visit Janelia to discuss their career paths and provide valuable networking opportunities.
Association for Women in Science Lunches: Our award winning AWIS affiliate group hosts frequent lunch meetings with successful women in science.
Practical Workshops: Invited speakers provide training in topics ranging from negotiating to establishing an internet presence to presentation tips for nonnative English speakers.
Scientists Teaching Scientists: An online course that covers topics including active learning, teaching and assessment techniques, as well as preparation of a Teaching Philosophy statement for faculty position applications.
Teaching Opportunities: Postdocs who successfully complete the Scientists Teaching Scientists course have created courses for Janelians, including an Introduction to Neuroscience course.
Mentoring opportunities: Janelia postdocs often mentor local summer high-school interns and summer undergraduate researchers.
After completing their training, Janelia postdocs go on to a wide range of rewarding careers. Approximately 40 percent of them have gone on to faculty or group leader positions, compared to a national average of about 10 percent. Former Janelia postdocs have also accepted positions in industry, government, finance, regulation, law, and publishing.
Like all Janelia employees, postdocs at Janelia have access to campus amenities, including childcare, housing, and a shuttle bus service to the D.C. metro area.
Apply for a Postdoctoral Associate Position
Postdoctoral associates work in the laboratories of Janelia lab heads. Appointments are made for a one-year period and may extend to a total of five years. Recruitment for postdoctoral associates is ongoing. Contact individual group leaders to get more information about potential postdoctoral positions in their labs or apply now for a postdoctoral associate position found in our jobs listings.
Janelia Association of Research Scientists (JARS)
JARS is a self-organized, HHMI-funded society dedicated to the professional development, continued education, and community wellness of postdocs, graduate students, and research scientists at Janelia.
Grants and Fellowships
Our internal funding model eliminates the need for postdocs (as with all Janelia scientists) to seek additional funding, and postdoctoral associates may not receive funds, such as fellowships, from sources outside HHMI. However, there are a few exceptions:
Janelia Teaching Fellowship
The Janelia Teaching Fellowship supports Janelia early career scientists who want to gain teaching experience in order to pursue careers in academia. Janelia scientists who have been invited to teach a U.S. or international course can apply for the fellowship. The fellowship covers travel expenses and honoraria up to $3,000 per scientist in a fiscal year. Janelia postdocs have recently used these fellowships to teach courses in South Africa and at summer courses at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Postdoctoral researchers at Janelia may apply for and receive fellowships on an unfunded basis from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the Life Sciences Research Foundation. Several Janelia postdocs have been awarded these prestigious fellowships, which provide recognition of accomplishments and valuable networking opportunities.
Postdoc life at Janelia
Janelia postdoctoral associates are part of a collaborative scientific community, with access to leading edge research facilities, support teams, mentoring opportunities, career resources and campus amenities.
Marcella Noorman, Associate
1. Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Michigan and was homeschooled. I think this made me quite the textbook reader and independent learner, which helped me in research. I did my undergrad at a small liberal arts school in Nashville, Tennessee. I majored in audio engineering technology, because I wanted to work as a studio engineer in the music industry. I was also minoring in math because I’d always enjoyed it. In my junior year, I took a higher-level math course and it blew my mind. The mathematical proofs captivated me. I decided to change my major to mathematics. Then I did a post baccalaureate program in math at NC State, and I stayed there to pursue my PhD. I initially wanted to work on abstract problems in ``pure’’ mathematics. These types of problems don’t necessarily have an obvious real-world application. I’ve had many people ask me why anyone would study these problems. The answer to this for me is two-fold: 1) I think many mathematicians (myself included) find a simple joy in doing math; 2) advances in pure math can lead to major breakthroughs in science. For example, Bernhard Riemann’s work on the geometry of curved spaces became an integral part of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The problem I worked on, however, did have real-world applications- using mathematics to model the mechanical properties of biological tissues. One application was to understand the development of the eye disease glaucoma. This project opened my eyes to the crosstalk between math and science, and made me excited to explore other areas of science.
2. What brought you to Janelia?
As a kid, I questioned how people perceive things, if they perceive them the same or differently, and how would they know? At the end of my PhD, I decided to go into neuroscience, a big field change for me. Therefore, I looked for a place where I could immerse myself in neuroscience. During a summer program that Janelia co-hosted with the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, I met Janelians, talked to them about their research and got a sense of the community. I learned Janelia was the place where I could get a broad view of neuroscience, learn about the kinds of problems people were interested in, and the approaches they take in tackling these problems. Janelians were working on transformative problems and pushing the boundaries of science. I found it cool how tightly linked theory and experiment were among collaborators. Being able to closely interact and work with experimentalists was very attractive to me. I tend to thrive in more collaborative spaces and Janelia is very collaborative.
3. What research projects are you working on?
I have a few different projects, but there is one that we just put online that I am excited about (check it out at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.05.23.493052v1). This project involves an internal compass that's been found in many animals’ brains and that we believe is important for navigation. There is a beautiful theory to explain how the brain might build this compass from a population of neurons—for example, by wiring together neurons in the right way so that their collective activity can internally track an animal’s heading in its external environment. This theory guided how we think about this system. But the theory makes a critical assumption that you need a large number of neurons to build an accurate compass. The theory was developed with mammalian brains in mind, which are large. However, this compass also exists in very small brains, e.g. the fruit fly. Theory suggests a small circuit like the fly’s would make for a lousy inaccurate compass. Yet, experimental data suggests that the fly’s compass is actually quite good! My work has focused on understanding how small brains can build accurate compasses. We’ve made some exciting discoveries. For example, we found that it’s possible to build an extremely small compass that works as well as a big compass, but the small compass has to be built more carefully. The strength of the connections between neurons needs to be tuned within certain values. This realization pushes our current biological understanding of what small brains can do, and it shows that our theoretical understanding was missing something, creating a back and forth between theory and biology.
4. What is your favorite memory at Janelia?
My first time presenting for a seminar series called JTheory. I was nervous because this was my introduction to the Janelia theoretical and computational community. I received a lot of thoughtful questions and feedback. People were very kind and interested in me and my research. I felt truly accepted as a part of the community and that people valued my perspective.