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Emily King

Emily King, PhD

The NICHD Connection is excited to reconnect with Dr. Emily King, former NICHD postdoctoral fellow (and one of the founders of this newsletter). Emily worked in the lab of Dr. Robert Bonner, head of the Section of Medical Biophysics in the Laboratory of Integrative and Medical Biophysics, from September 2009 to February 2011. Read below to learn about her recent experiences on a fellowship in Germany!

Please describe your recent opportunity abroad. What does the opportunity entail?

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation offers postdoctoral fellowships for foreign researchers in any field to do research for up to 2 years with up to two different research groups in Germany. Fellows (and their spouses) are also given the opportunity to take 4 months of intensive German classes for free before the postdoc position starts.

How did you find this particular fellowship?

The German professor with whom I am currently working suggested that I apply for the fellowship. Furthermore, a biochemist in the office next to mine in Building 9 had been a Humboldt Fellow before he came to NIH and had a fantastic experience.

Please describe the application process. Did it take a long time?

The required application materials include a research statement focusing specifically on the research to be done in Germany, letters of recommendation, letters from the head(s) of the research group(s) that you plan to work with, copies of your dissertation, copies of three of your published papers, a publication list, and an abbreviated CV. Your application materials are first vetted with people in your research field before being forwarded to the selection committee. The selection committee only meets three times a year. There is a timeline which explains the process on the Humboldt website

The process could take up to 10.5 months. I applied in July 2010 to guarantee making the Oct/Nov 2010 selection committee meeting in order to be able to move to Germany in March 2011. You choose your starting date. I chose March 2011 because that allowed me enough time to do the four months of language courses followed by a two-year postdoc and return in time to start a position at a U.S. university Fall 2013.

What's your typical day like?

I read papers, do mathematics, program in Matlab, and handle a number of issues peripheral to my research. For example, I am also a postdoctoral faculty member at the Berlin Mathematical School and am involved in planning a seminar series with BMS explaining exciting research topics in mathematics at a beginning graduate student level.

Did you do anything in particular at the NICHD to make you more competitive for this opportunity?

Certainly! Most of the work in my dissertation was theoretical mathematics. Biomathematics is a very hot field right now, and my work at NICHD made my application more competitive. Working directly with bioscientists in varied fields was invaluable to me. Also, I learned the different perspectives and challenges that come with lab science. Specifically, biomedical image processing has many unique issues that traditional image processing does not have. For example, if you take a picture of the interior of a room, your eyes and intuition are very good tools for picking up any errors in the digital image. However, you can't exactly vivisect a patient's eye to explain exactly what the black area in the scan of his retina is.

What has been the most exciting aspect of going overseas?

I love learning a new language and experiencing a different culture. You learn so much more about your own culture when you move abroad, too.

What are some of the future career options for someone who completes this fellowship?

I don't know the exact numbers, but I believe that the majority go into the medical field or become tenured professors after being a Humboldt Fellow.

What are your future career plans?

I am currently applying for tenure-track positions in mathematics departments at research-oriented universities in the U.S.

Do you have any advice for fellows who are thinking about pursuing similar opportunities?

Do it! There are more and more opportunities for Americans to do postdocs or graduate school (in English) overseas. Beyond being a fantastic personal opportunity to experience another country as a resident, they provide opportunities to network with more people around the world and to do research with a different focus.

If you have additional questions for Emily, please feel free to contact her at