I am a lab technician (microbiology & molecular biology) and biology student, and I am currently seeking for job in some institutes in the UK. After sending my CVs to the HR departments, I usually got some replies with acknowledgement, or pointing to the institute's vacancies webpage, etc. Now I would like to be more proactive, and I feel like it would be good to visit some labs in person, meet the group leaders and other researchers, learn more about their research, and see how I could fit in these groups with my expertise. I expect this to be more efficient than sending CVs to the HR, as team leaders could know about me, and consider more seriously to hire me in their labs.

My questions are, is this kind of visit possible at all? How much I need to organise it, can it be kind of spontaneous? I know there are some other institutes elsewhere, where it is accepted, and they are happy if somebody just pops in to the lab to meet people and learn more about their work. Might this attitude be general? I am afraid they will find me intrusive. And how I should organise a visit, should I write to HR, or to the team leaders, or just drop in, say hello, telling that I can return later if the time is not appropriate?

  • Why not send the CV to the PIs themselves? – Davidmh Nov 4 '15 at 9:49
  • This is what I want, just I feel it would be nicer to handle them in person, and also it would be nice to see these labs, so I could know better if I like them. – deeenes Nov 4 '15 at 9:52
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    FWIW, every time I've visited a UK research institute (including my own...) has involved making an appointment, getting a security pass, etc. It's unlikely you can just turn up and talk to someone without at least calling ahead. Universities are a lot easier to walk into! – Andrew Nov 4 '15 at 14:10

By just sending CVs to places, you are essentially "cold calling," and it's no surprise that you're getting little response. Most PIs get random poorly targeted job application spam every day, and your email will likely simply be discarded. Just showing up in person or asking if you can show up in person without going through the formal job application site is likely to perform little better.

Instead, I would recommend figuring out how to get introductions through professional networking opportunities. Some key things that you can do:

  • Go to conferences and meet people in person there. It's entirely appropriate to mention that you are looking for jobs at a conference, and a good conversation at a conference can easily lead to just the type of invitation visit that you are interested in.
  • Get introduced through a third party, such as the PI you work with or other researchers that you know, either at your institution or elsewhere.
  • Do your homework technically, and approach with a highly specific connection that you suggest in advance would be appropriate to discuss. You are much more likely to be taken seriously if your email begins with something like: "I noticed your lab is doing a lot of work with Boojum Factorization, and I've been working on Boojum Spectrometry, which could improve your Boojum Factorization methods in the following ways..."

Although many academics are not quite happy with the bureaucratic difficulties and delays caused by their HRs, HR departments exist not without a purpose. In the UK, the academic jobs should be advertised publicly and the appointment should be made on the base of merit according to pre-specified person criteria. If Dr Who uses his personal relations, or secret charms to persuade a PI to hire them, the following chain of event happen:

  1. The post is created and formally advertised
  2. 100+ candidates submit their applications explaining how they fit the person specification criteria
  3. Someone (an academic or HR or both) pre-screens applications and compose a short list
  4. Candidates from the short list are invited to travel down to the University for an interview
  5. Everyone is rejected, Dr Who is hired.

Before answering the "howto" question, please consider, if you think the whole process is fair to everyone involved, especially to other candidates?

Regarding your question, if a stranger enters my workplace "spontaneously", and demands my time and attention, I will probably feel uncomfortable. Some people may find this intrusive -- for the record, I am one of them. There are clear instructions on how to submit a job application, and "walk into the lab out of sudden" is rarely on this list.

However, it may be a good idea to introduce yourself politely to the potential PI. Usual rules apply here: it is better to send an email first, explaining your reasons and motivation clearly. If your potential PI is considering hiring new lab members, they will engage in discussion with you, invite you to visit them, and work out further steps to get you on board.


I'm assuming the first two Jake bullet points don't fit your current situation.

His third bullet point is something you can already do, though. Here's how to fit it in. You can write a letter along these lines: "I will be traveling in your area in the early part of the new year, and would welcome the opportunity to visit your lab." Then describe briefly something exciting you've been involved in (such as Jake's Boojum example). You want to give the impression that a visit would be a win-win situation.

If you have a talk you could give, you could mention that (and the title and brief abstract).

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