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What's it like to do a postdoc at the NIA?

What's it like to do a postdoc at the NIA?

Posted on December 4, 2013 by Jennifer Illuzzi, Postdoctoral Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellow, Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology, Intramural Research Program. See Jennifer Illuzzi's full profile.

I’m a postdoc at the NIA labs in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve been here for three wonderful years, and I wanted to share some of my experience with you. If you have a graduate student who will soon be looking for a postdoc, or if you yourself might consider an NIA research training position—Read On!

NIH Terminology:

Intramural: research done in-house

Extramural: NIH-funded research by scientists at institutions across the country

The NIA has a range of opportunities available, from summer research positions and post baccalaureate opportunities, to postdocs and tenure track research jobs.

What is it like to work for NIA intramural?

The postdoc experience here is unique. I see it falling somewhere between what you might experience at a university and what you might experience in industry. You’re still putting in the hours in the lab, writing up the results, and making presentations, but there are differences. Here’s a comparison. (Of course, these are just my impressions. Your specific experience might be a little different.)


NIA Intramural Postdoc

University Postdoc

Industry Postdoc


3-5 years, fixed

Depends, maybe a whole career

Depends on company policy


Lots: interview skills, CV review, networking

Maybe, you might have to seek it out

Depends on company

Collaboration Opportunities

Within your lab, within the NIH, with individuals outside of the NIH; you might have to seek it out

Within your lab and university; you might have to seek it out

Mainly within your laboratory

Help in the Lab

My lab has many postdocs so there is a lot of knowledgeable help available

You are one of the most experienced so you have to seek your own answers

Depends on the laboratory

Opportunities To Mentor Students

Sometimes depending on advisor and budget

Frequent turnover of undergrad and grad students

Not often

Opportunities To Publish




Training is a highlight of an NIA intramural postdoc.

When I was choosing between postdoctoral opportunities after finishing up my Ph.D. in DNA damage and repair at the University of Delaware, it’s the training and career development opportunities that most made the NIA stand out. Fellows meet regularly together and hold workshops. Our intramural experience includes being trained to explain our science and our accomplishments to scientists in our field, to scientists who aren’t familiar with our area of research, and to the general public. These are skills that will really come in handy when I begin to apply for other opportunities in the future.

five people dressed casually, four men and one woman.
The author and her research group, the Repair of Endogenous DNA Damage Section. Left to right, Section Chief David M. Wilson III, Daniel R. McNeill, Teru Iyama, Jennifer Illuzzi, and Mengxia Li.

Not only is the training amazing, I am constantly intrigued by the research I am doing. I work on understanding the mechanisms of DNA repair through the base excision repair protein APE1 and how that impacts aging. I also really enjoy the group of postdocs that I’ve gotten to know at the NIA. It’s an unusually diverse group, with scientists from all corners of the globe who share the common interest in DNA repair. It’s a pleasure to work with such a set of world-class folks, and I’ve learned a lot from our networking. And, of course, I get great mentoring from Dr. David Wilson, III, the investigator who supervises my area of the lab, and Dr. Vilhelm Bohr, the head of the lab. It’s really interesting to work side-by-side with such talented scientists.

What NIA postdoc opportunities are available now, and how do you apply?

Open NIA postdoc opportunities are listed online. I just took a look, and there are five up today, including some in my lab. There are specific instructions about how to apply, which don’t differ all that much from what you’d see for a university postdoc application process.

Do you have other questions about postdocs at the NIA? Submit a comment below, and I’ll try to answer them.


Read Next:

Postdoctoral Research and Training Opportunities: NIA Intramural Research Program

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