**Why I Chose an Independent Research Institute for my Postdoc**
After completing my doctorate in biomolecular sciences in 2021, I found myself at a crossroads. I wanted to pursue a scientific career while also prioritizing my family’s needs. I was hesitant to follow the traditional academic career track due to potential lack of support and limited work-life balance. Therefore, I began exploring opportunities at independent research institutes (IRIs) which aligned with my research interests.
**What are IRIs?**
IRIs are independent entities that are not affiliated with larger universities or health-care systems. They cover a range of research areas and sizes, and although independent, they often collaborate with universities and hospitals. In the United States, the Association of Independent Research Institutes consists of over 70 IRIs, each with its own mission, focus, and culture. Some IRIs even run their own accredited graduate programs.
**Discovering the Van Andel Institute (VAI)**
During my PhD studies, I attended the Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium at the Van Andel Institute (VAI), an IRI in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Intrigued by the institute’s research and community, I decided to attend VAI’s Postdoc Preview event. This experience confirmed my desire to join VAI.
**Benefits of IRIs for Postdocs**
One of the key advantages of IRIs, based on my experience at VAI, is their ability to address postdoc challenges quickly and flexibly. They often offer better pay, benefits, and work-life balance compared to larger institutions. For instance, VAI raised postdoctoral starting salaries to $70,000 a year, prioritizing the well-being of its researchers.
Additionally, IRIs foster a sense of community and collaboration. At VAI, there is an entire department dedicated to my research field, allowing me to connect with colleagues who share similar professional interests. The smaller size of the institute promotes closeness among researchers, creating a supportive environment for growth and development.
**Aligning Goals with Institute Selection**
When considering postdoctoral opportunities, it is crucial to evaluate how potential employers align with personal and professional goals. This evaluation involves more than just scientific compatibility. Factors such as pay, benefits, facilities, lab culture, postdoc support resources, professional development opportunities, and community atmosphere should all be considered.
Ultimately, the decision to join an IRI or a different institution depends on individual preferences. Some may opt for a larger academic institution with greater name recognition, while others may prefer the collaborative environment of an IRI. It is important to thoroughly research and assess the pros and cons of each organization before making a decision.
Choosing to join an independent research institute for my postdoc has been a rewarding experience. By selecting VAI, I have been able to pursue my scientific career while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The supportive environment, research focus, and sense of community have allowed me to flourish as a scientist. I encourage fellow postdocs to consider IRIs as potential opportunities that offer unique advantages beyond traditional academic institutions.