Moving on from the Crick: from postdoc to lab leader

Crick postdocs have access to training opportunities to set them up for whatever comes next – whether that’s academia, industry or something else entirely. We caught up with four former Crick postdocs on the academic career path to hear how their postdoc experience set them up for success.

Postdocs are the largest group of scientists at the Crick, with more than 400 working here at any one time. During their time here, they’re heading up independent research projects, refining their technical knowledge and developing their leadership skills.

When they leave the Crick, our postdocs move into a range of careers, with around 25% going on to another postdoc position, 25% starting an independent position in academia and 50% going into another science-related job. These all have specific requirements, and our Academic Training team put together tailored training plans for each postdoc to support their future ambitions.

We spoke to four of our former postdocs who have established their own labs at universities and institutes in the UK and abroad. Hear about what they did here at the Crick and what their next research venture involves.

Tobias Ackels

Tobias Ackels, a former postdoc in the Sensory Circuits and Neurotechnology Laboratory, has just left the Crick to set up his own lab at the University of Bonn, Germany.

What did you do at the Crick and what research will your new lab look into?

"At the Crick, I worked with Andreas Schaefer on the olfactory system in mice, to find that odour plumes like steam from a coffee have a 'temporal profile'– this means they carry information about where an odour comes from and what it’s composed of, which fluctuates as it travels.

"We showed that mice can sense extremely fast and subtle changes in odour structure and use this to alter their behaviour. This could help them to understand where a food source is, or whether an animal approaching is a potential predator or mate.

"What we don’t yet understand is exactly where and how exactly the information connecting stimulus and behaviour is processed in the brain. I’m going to dive deeper into this in my new lab, using both behavioural and physiological methods.

"Research in this area is important for conditions like dementia, as the olfactory bulb is one of the first areas to be affected in the brain, even before symptoms start. This can lead to reduced sense of smell or an inability to tell the difference odours. Understanding more about how smell is processed could help us find potential treatments or a way to diagnose these conditions earlier."

What was the best thing about working at the Crick?

"I had been at the Crick since it opened and the best thing was having everything under one roof. The access to microscopes, sequencing, the animal facility, genetic alteration, and bioinformatics definitely fosters fantastic teamwork. The group of neurophysiology labs have also grown and it’s been amazing to work amongst such great colleagues with so much expertise."

What are you most excited about in your new role?

"I’m excited to branch out and set up my own research programme, and also to support students through teaching at the university. Bonn has a vibrant neuroscience environment and there’s a great community of people working in the area. It's also great to be closer to family in Germany."

Tobias Ackels

Carlos Minutti

Carlos Minutti, a former postdoc in the Immunobiology Laboratory, has also headed to Europe, to set up his lab at the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon.

What did you do at the Crick and what research will your new lab look into? 

"I’m an immunologist, working to better understand the biology of dendritic cells – a type of immune cell that is specialised in sensing threats to our tissues, like damage to a cell, a bacteria or virus, or cancer, and taking this information to T cells. As instructed by dendritic cells, T cells can then hold memories about the threat, allowing for future immune protection and vaccines to work..  

"There are many types of dendritic cells that seem to have a division of labour during different types of challenges to our immune system. To date, we haven’t known whether they acquire these functional properties when developing in the bone marrow or in the tissue. As part of Caetano Reis e Sousa’s lab, we discovered that dendritic cell subtypes are specified in the bone marrow and not in the tissues, which is the opposite to what the field expected. 

"In my new lab in Lisbon, I’ll aim to understand why these dendritic cell developmental pathways arise in the bone marrow, and how their origin is translated into function. We’re going to use three different disease models – a virus, a parasite and cancer – to see whether the immune system requires a different dendritic cell type depending on which threat is present. This will be done in mice at the start, but I’m hoping to look at these cells in human samples in the future." 

What was the best thing about working at the Crick? 

"I was at the Crick for five years and loved it. Whoever you interact with, within the whole scientific community, there’s a mentality of ‘let’s bring this forward’. There are not many places around the world where you have so many labs doing top-notch science all in one place!"

What are you most excited about in your new role? 

"I’m really looking forward to setting up my own lab, incorporating everything I’ve learnt from previous supervisors and my previous group leader, Caetano. I’m also excited about the discoveries which lie ahead and what we’re going to find out. Lisbon is also a great location and there’s views of the ocean from the institute."

Carlos Minutti

Leticia Monin

Leticia Monin, a former postdoc in the Immunosurveillance Laboratory, has moved across London to Imperial College London to set up her own lab.  

What did you do at the Crick and what research will your new lab look into?

"During my postdoc at the Crick, I worked in Adrian Hayday's lab on gamma delta T cells, a specific type of white blood cell, which are found in tissues at the body’s barriers rather than in the blood.

"Because of their location and their readiness to respond, they are some of the first immune cells to become activated in response to infections and tumours. Therefore, by understanding the basis behind their activation, we may be able to use them therapeutically. I am working on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying their specificity for particular locations in the body. This may allow us to repurpose these signals to improve delivery of immunotherapies.

"I joined the Department of Immunology and Inflammation at Imperial College London in July, where I will be working on understanding the cues underlying the associations between gamma delta T cells and tissues. Starting my own group has been my goal for quite some time now, so this is a very exciting time!"

What was the best thing about working at the Crick?

"The best thing about the Crick are its people. Being able to interact with such a diverse, welcoming community has been fantastic, and I will miss the day-to-day interactions with the lab the most. In addition, the level of assistance that we get from the science technology platforms is outstanding."  

What are you most excited about in your new role?

"One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most during my postdoc at the Crick has been teaching and mentoring MSc students. I co-supervised two MSc students and a research assistant who were absolutely fantastic, and one of the most rewarding things was seeing them grow scientifically. In my new position, I am really looking forward to teaching and interacting with students. I am also very excited at the prospect of setting up new projects, like a new mouse model to map the interactions of gamma delta T-cells with other cells."

Leticia Monin Aldama

John Davis

John Davis, a former postdoc in the Apoptosis and Proliferation Control Laboratory at the Crick, recently moved to the University of Manchester to set up his own lab.

What did you do at the Crick and what research is your new lab looking into?

"I am interested in how tissue mechanics can drive developmental processes such as morphogenesis – the shaping of an organism in development. At the Crick in Nicolas Tapon's lab, I initially worked on describing the growth dynamics of Drosophila fruit fly histoblasts, a population of cells that give rise to the adult fly abdominal epidermis. We can live-image these cells as they grow, which is a powerful system to examine how a tissue is made and how tissue mechanics changes over-time.

"I was then awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship at the Crick, which allowed me to switch to an experimental system where I make tissues of specific shapes and size. This involved examining how cells within a tissue balance force acting on the surface they are attached to and their neighbours; a process that often goes wrong in disease progression. This revealed that not all cells contribute equally to generating forces and that some cells contract more than others.

"Since leaving the Crick, I have moved up to Manchester to start my own group: the hungry tissue lab. My lab is interested in understanding the effect that tissue mechanics has on energy metabolism, and the consequences of this on disease progression. To study this, I combine both Drosophila development and micropatterned tissues, building on my research at the Crick."

What was the best thing about working with the Crick?

"Looking back, there were two main things I enjoyed the most whilst I worked at the Crick: people and freedom. For people, I don’t just mean the social aspect, though I made some great friends whilst at the Crick, and had a lot of fun. But it was a joy to come to work and be surrounded by brilliant, dedicated, thoughtful and inspiring people who worked for something bigger than just their team or lab.

"From my lab colleagues to the fly community at the Crick, to the STPs I worked with and the other labs that I interacted with, to the quadrant managers, to the grants team and IT services. It is hard to quantify how special that type of environment is but something I found special about the Crick. For freedom, I found the culture promoted people being brave with their research and not being negative, thinking this is too difficult, impossible or expensive."

What were you most excited about in your new role?

"To be honest, at the end of my postdoc and the move to Manchester, it was a very chaotic time, so during that period I would say I was looking forward to it being over and settling down!

"However, now I have been in my new role for a few months, I would say I am loving building a lab from scratch. It has been a lot of fun setting up the space and facilities and having the space and time to think about the questions that excite me and plan how I want to answer them. In the future, I am looking forward to start hiring and building a team to carry out the research and see some of my ideas come to life."

John Davis at the Crick

Sign up for our newsletters

Join our mailing lists to receive updates about our latest research and to hear about our free public events and exhibitions.  If you would like to find out more about how we manage your personal information please see our privacy policy.