Dr. Eleanore Sternberg

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Dr. Eleanore Sternberg, PBEE (2012), advised by: Dr. Jaap de Roode
Currently a postdoc at the Pennsylvania State University

PSWDid you have in mind multiple places when you considered a post-doc or did you know from the beginning 1 school/mentor that you wanted to work at/with?

ES: I didn’t have any particular place in mind. About 6-9 months before defending I started to keep track of new job postings and applied to positions that seemed interesting. In the end, I got three interviews and my current position is the only job offer that I received (I stopped applying after I got the offer) but it’s worked out to be pretty close to an ideal position for me.


PSW: When determining a mentor, was it someone who already knew through a colleague or conference, or did you cold call/e-mail someone?

ES: I met my postdoc mentor, Matt, at a conference. He has worked in collaboration with Andrew Read, Jaap’s PhD advisor, who I had met previously through Jaap and who was also at the conference. They recruited me together and technically I am supervised by both Matt and Andrew, but I work much more closely with Matt (and I’m funded by his grant). So, it was a combination of connections through Jaap and running into Matt and Andrew at a conference at the right time.

PSW: How far in advance did you apply for funding? What was the timeline as far as defending, applying for funding, and moving/beginning a postdoc?

ES: I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a model grad student when it comes to planning for a postdoc. I started applying to positions less than a year before I needed to defend. I only applied for one source of funding (the FIRST fellowship) and for the most part I focused on positions that were already funded. I didn’t set my defense date until after I had a job offer. I moved and started my postdoc only a couple weeks after I defended. It was pretty stressful at the time but it’s worked out well for me in the end. I think a big part of why I was able to do it this way was that I’d already published two of my data chapters and a third chapter was close to ready for submission so writing up my dissertation went pretty quickly and painlessly.

PSW: What made you choose the school that you did? What skills or experiences are you looking to gain from your post-doc?

ES: My mentors were definitely the biggest draw, but the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Penn State’s reputation in the field of infectious disease ecology was also attractive. I was pretty excited by the prospect of doing more applied research, which is what I’ve been doing during my postdoc (developing tools for malaria vector control).

PSW: How did your experiences in PBEE help you gain skills for your post-doc? What do you wish you had known or done before becoming a post-doc? ES: Probably the most important skills I learned were from Jaap, on how to present research in a clear and engaging way. I’ve made a pretty big jump from working on monarch butterflies to malaria mosquitoes, but the ability to communicate your research is useful no matter what you’re working on. Second to that is probably the ability to use R. R is incredibly flexible and there’s a growing demand for the ability to use it. PBEE pushes R in a way that a lot of other graduate programs don’t, and I think that’s great.

PSW: How long (ideally) do you plan on being a post-doc? What are your ultimate career goals?

ES: My current postdoc is a 3 year position that ends this month. I’m really enjoying my postdoc and especially with the big switch in systems, I wouldn’t want to do anything shorter than 3 years. I’m now transitioning into a more senior research position, still at Penn State, working on a grant from the Gates Foundation. I helped my mentor prepare and submit the grant, and it builds in the research that I was involved with as a postdoc. Ultimately I would like to work in the field of public health. I’d really like to work for an organization like the Gates Foundation where I could have a hand in how money is spent in controlling vector borne diseases.

PSW: Any other thoughts on being a post-doc or advice to junior (or senior) graduate students on the way to postdoc-ing?ES: I think that the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that luck plays a pretty big part in the whole process! Being flexible in what you’re willing to do is pretty important, given how difficult it is to get funding and job offers. This might be less true if you work on a common system like Drosophila, but working on monarch butterflies for my PhD it seemed unlikely that I would stick with the same system for my postdoc. I imagine that if you’re writing your own research grants to fund your postdoc it’s a bit different but for me, applying to different jobs was a good opportunity to think broadly about my skill set, and about what I could offer and get out of different kinds of research projects.