International Postdoc: What to Ask the Institution/PI

I am an international postdoc. If you would have asked me mid-PhD if I would ever consider studying abroad, I would have instantly responded, ‘No!’ However, life has a funny way of adding in a few unexpected twists and turns in… and here I am, halfway through my second year postdocing in Canada.

Do I wish someone had helped me navigate what to ask while interviewing, well, Yes! There are many added complexities about working internationally. Since different fields and different countries will vary wildly in their laws and challenges, rather than giving you a detailed guide of what I did. I am going to give you a detailed guide to questions that I asked of myself, my potential PI, and potential institution. These questions will hopefully help you make a more informed decision, or at least make you a very informed interviewee.

What to ask at or before your interview:

  1. Will I need a work permit to give my job talk or interview?
  2. What are average living costs? What should I expect to pay for necessities like housing and food?
    • Don’t forget to include questions about communication costs like cell phone & internet.
  3. Will you are the university provide any support for moving expenses or logistics?
    • Will the lab or University cover my visa or passport fees (from Luna Centifanti)
  4. Are Postdoctoral Scholars considered employees of the universities? What type of insurance and civil protections are available for postdocs (like unemployment insurance).
    • Will the university pay these benefits are will they be taken off of my paycheck?
    • Will my insurance cover significant others or dependents?
  5. Have you ever had a student get rejected for a work permit? Do you or the university have infrastructure in place to assist with this, if the problem arises?
  6. Does the university have a designated immigration office for international trainees?
    • Are the services available to postdoctoral scholars?
  7. Does the university offer to review immigration documents before attempting to secure a work permit or cross the border?
    • What documentation is needed from the University to acquire a work-permit. How long does it take for the university to produce such a document?
    • How long is the length of your appointment? Will this be different from the length of your work permit?
  8. What do leaves of absence look like? (e.g. Sick leave, Vacation & Maternity Leave)
    • If you are international asking for extra vacation time is a reasonable request as seeing family is more difficult.
  9. Will I be able to get funding?
    • Are there many fellowships which have citizen or residency requirements?
    • Have you had other international postdocs who were successful?
  10. Does the university have any programs in place to help make transitioning into another country easier?
    • Does the University offer transitional housing for international postdocs?
    • Is there a reciprocal visa for my significant other? Will they be able to work if they cannot secure a work visa independently? What about my minor children?
      • Will my minor children need a study permit to attend school in this country?
      • Can my significant other able to study at the University for reduces cost or free? (From Luna Centifanti)
    • Are there any programs provided to ease banking difficulties? It can be very difficult getting a credit card or decent interest rate if you need to buy a car in your new location as a person on a work permit.
    • Are there language programs if you are not a native speaker? Are they available to postdoctoral fellows or just students?
    • What is the work culture and expectation of productivity, both in this department and at the university?
    • Are there programs to assist you getting settled with healthcare needs, like a Primary physician and dentist?

I am happy to answer questions, just post in the comments.

Next week… What to consider before committing to an international postdoc position.

This is the second posting in a series about being an international postdoc.

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