Changing your research field
Do not listen to your current boss!
Of course, you must give an ear to your current boss’s suggestions on your current project but what I mean by not listening to them is valid for the long term. If I had done what my PhD boss recommended, I would have been stuck in tissue engineering: a topic I had no longer enjoyed. I would have eventually lost my productivity or enthusiasm for research. So, if you are not entirely happy with what you have been doing in your PhD, think about an alternative field to study for your postdoctoral fellowship.
Listen to your friends!
I have always been computer-savvy and good at scripting algorithms but I never realised or thought that I must work with computers until I was made so by a friend. One evening, I was at a cafe, analysing some qPCR data that I had obtained a day before and this friend of mine came to me for help in designing an illustration for his paper. I first carefully listened to what he had in mind and drew it in a vector format in one shot. By the time I had finished his figure, I had started scripting some codes for analysing fluorescence images. He was eyeing how I built an algorithm from scratch in a few minutes–an algorithm capable of processing over 3000 images at one click. That was when he said, “You must do your research with computers!”. Yes, that moment was a milestone for me.
Have some proof to show your skills
I was stunned by the thought of incorporating computers into my research career. Of course, it was not something new in the field but I had never considered doing so. I was unsure where to start until I came across bioinformatics papers. I was urged by the idea of analysing transcriptomics data, for which I enrolled on a couple of MOOCs the same week. These online modules included how to use R, python and other cloud-based transcriptomics data analysis platforms like Galaxy. Within four months, I could analyse RNA sequencing data from scratch using cross-platforms and share data between those platforms.
Certificates do and do not work!
Looking back, I have obtained over 20 MOOC certificates in RNA sequencing data analysis and appropriate statistical tests. However, I must confess that those won’t help you get your dream job. Though I do not regret taking them because I could only learn about bioinformatics through them without a mentor. If you want to land a job you enjoy the most, you had better demonstrate that you can actually do the work on this new topic. I could display this by analysing some public datasets and depositing the results on platforms like GitHub. This is of utmost importance because there’s a high chance that the interviewing committee will ask you to show some proof of your new interest without a publication.
No matter what your future research interest is, it is better to begin making some preparation for a smooth transition now. I had started a long career in tissue engineering where the work included a hundred per cent wet-lab approaches. In my current position, I conduct bioinformatics analyses for the group even though I carry out wet-lab experiments. Most importantly, I enjoy and am willing to build a career in this new research field, thanks to the person who encouraged me!