BJKS Podcast

52. Postdoc fellowship applications (with Toby Wise)

March 06, 2022
BJKS Podcast
52. Postdoc fellowship applications (with Toby Wise)
Show Notes Transcript

In this conversation, I talk with Toby Wise about applying for postdoc fellowships. Toby has received and completed the Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship, where he worked with Ray Dolan and Dean Mobbs. He answers some of the questions I have about applying for postdoc fellowships in general, such as how to write a proposal, how to contact potential supervisors/sponsors for your application, when to start, and what kind of scientist a fellowship is even for.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.).

Podcast links

Toby's links

Ben's links

Links for stuff mentioned

People mentioned


  • Deisseroth, K. (2011). Optogenetics. Nature methods.
  • Friston, K. J., Stephan, K. E., Montague, R., & Dolan, R. J. (2014). Computational psychiatry: the brain as a phantastic organ. The Lancet Psychiatry.
  • Montague, P. R., Dolan, R. J., Friston, K. J., & Dayan, P. (2012). Computational psychiatry. Trends in cognitive sciences.
  • Steinmetz, N. A., Koch, C., Harris, K. D., & Carandini, M. (2018). Challenges and opportunities for large-scale electrophysiology with Neuropixels probes. Current opinion in neurobiology.
  • Wang, X. J., & Krystal, J. H. (2014). Computational psychiatry. Neuron.

(This is an automated transcript to help with search-engine optimization that contains many errors of transcription)

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] I have to be slightly careful with what I'm drinking. I once did an episode where I, I just did a book review on my own ones and, um, I had this, uh, chocolate milk and, uh, you know, it was really nice relaxing chocolate milk. So I'd have a sip every occasionally. And then my voice would just like drop an octave when I did that. 

And then over the next five minutes, it would just gradually go back again. So this is like, at the beginning, it's like, hi there. Like, it would just go up again over the next five minutes, I have to be slightly aware of that now to not make it sound completely like there's three people speaking. okay. 

So I guess today we're talking about postdoc fellowships. , I am joined for the second time of this podcast now by Toby wise. So thank you for doing this Toby. Um, So I guess I already had one episode that's kind of similar to this, which was with Matthias Stangl, who was a postdoc at UCLA. And he, we kind of talked for about 50 minutes about how he got at his postdoc position. 

[00:01:00] And he got his through, um, basically emailing potential supervisors out of the blue and saying, Hey, I'm doing this thing. I'm interested in this. Can we talk? And then basically through that, he, I don't know whether he got more than one offer, but he definitely got at least one offer that he's very happy with. 

I guess today we'll be talking more about the other side of getting a postdoc position, which is applying for a fellowship yourself to get some sort of grant money for which you can pay your salary or whatever. So, yeah, I guess the reason I invited you to talk about this is because I'm, I've got one year left basically on my PhD. 

And, you know, I guess at some point I have to start thinking about what I'm going to do afterwards. One question will be how from when should I start doing that, but that's maybe a question for later, but yeah. So it's definitely something on my mind and you already had on your website, I think you had a statement like if you ever want to know anything about like these fellowship applications, just send me an email or something like that. 

Toby Wise: [00:02:00] I think so.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So I did that and, um, yeah. So I guess today we were talking about that and so maybe set the scene a little bit. I guess the idea is that this is also, you know, that this is generally useful for people considering applying for postdoc fellowships. But of course your experiences are somewhat specific. 

So we'll kind of use those because you know, the best, um, and you were awarded the, Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship or post-doc fellowship, um, which I think is probably the best fellowship from the UK to get, is that fair to say?  

Toby Wise: Um, there were very few of them at the post-doc level. So.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: looks very cool from the outside at  

Toby Wise: Yeah, no, it was, it was very good. It was  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. And, um, so yeah, I guess we're kind of using that as an example. At the same time, I can maybe ask some questions that relate to my position. So maybe we can get like a bit of a example counter example or kind of yeah. Just thinking through things. 

So to maybe get [00:03:00] like a, um, I was just curious about this, this would probably lead to the first topic, which is you have this, the sentence I referred to earlier. Um, there's another one. You have any website, which is right on the front page, which is please feel free to get in touch. 

If you'd like to talk about anything, research related, whether it's science or career advice, reaching out to random scientists can be intimidating for junior students, less research slash researchers, particularly if you're from a background that's underrepresented in academia. I want to make it clear here that are always welcome. 

this I can be reached at. Sorry, I can't read anyway. So you have this statement on your website and I was just curious, is there a story behind that or why did you specifically put that? Like, so, uh, you know, like there's a website that's like, Hey, I'm Toby I'm post-doc blah, blah, blah. I drew this there and then that's kind of the statement. 

So I'm just curious, like, is there anything, a story behind that or,  

Toby Wise: Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I just nice. 

Toby Wise: that actually came about last year, where we are now came about in 2020 when I'm [00:04:00] obviously, you know, there was a lot of, Uh, 

other stuff going on in the world generally about, uh, racism and things like that. Um, around the time of the black lives matter protest and on Twitter, there were a lot of people were kind of highlighting various kind of inequalities that exist in academia. 

And people talking about when you're, what could we do to try and improve the level of equity that's out there in our, in our field. Um, and I mean, one thing that I realized is. If you, particularly, if you're someone who is from any kind of background, that's not, well-represented in science, it does feel a bit awkward to just reach out to scientists who look like they're, uh, very, uh, well-respected and professional and experienced and potentially world famous, um, and ask them for advice. 

Um, and sorry, I thought, you know, one thing I could do to help that in my little small way is just to put a statement on the website that explicitly says, I don't mind if you email me. Cause I [00:05:00] mean, you know, I'm not from such a background, but I remember even myself as an undergrad or master's student you're emailing prospective PhD supervisors or anything, which is terrifying because you're, you know, they're people who you you've read their papers and you're like, why would they even have the time to respond to me? 

And so then you just like often don't end up doing it when in reality they'd probably be quite happy to hear from you. So I thought make that explicit  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah. I mean, I agree with that. I I'm also not from, I'm not sure I'm in any minority. Um, I guess I'm always an immigrant because I am from several countries, but so far from that, I basically have like, no, uh, uh, no sense of minority, but I remember also like just. Second year, you know, wanting to get research experience and just asking someone who was like a lecturer or senior lecturer when I was studying and just asking them like, Hey, can I like help out? 

Just like, just, just doing that was terrifying. I do you to stand in front of the office and go like, oh God, what am I doing? They're just gonna like [00:06:00] throw me out.  

Toby Wise: Yep,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Of course they don't. Um,  

Toby Wise: So, yeah. 

it's, it's nice. I think, to make that very clear up front for people and then,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Has anyone taken you up on the offer or? 

Toby Wise: Um, I think I've had a couple of emails actually. But I mean myself, like, you know, I'm not a world famous professor of anything. Like, I don't have people like begging me to come work in my lab because my lab doesn't exist. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And I was just curious because sometimes these office can be, I think often these offers just aren't taken up, right? Sometimes you have, even, even when people do that, it can still be intimidating to  

Toby Wise: oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. It's not going to solve all problems, but it's certainly a step in the right  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay, cool. Yeah, I was just curious. I guess in terms of structure for this conversation, um, you have written two blog posts on your website. Um, one called how to apply for a post-doctoral fellowship in 10 easy steps. And I like that they're easy. That makes it nice. [00:07:00] Um, and the second is called how to survive a fellowship interview. 

Um, so I guess we can probably just use that as a structure, because I guess it's kind of the order that makes most sense  

Toby Wise: Yeah, that sounds  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, of expand on it because it's, I guess the nice thing of your blog post is that it's fairly short. Each step is, you know, a brief summary of that kind of what goes on in each step. 

That of course also means It might be nice to have him have context, pure  

Toby Wise: yeah, of course. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: of stuff. Um, so, so the first step you have is called decide whether the fellowship route is for you. And I thought we'd start with a text message exchange that you put in there. Um, so I'm assuming you're the green person. 

Toby Wise: I am the green person. I won't reveal who the other person. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, you said I was looking at Wellcome trust fellowships yesterday, or the previous awardees have CVS that make me want to cry. They all seem to have worked at the greatest labs in the world and have had like 10 plus publications by the end of their PhDs, to which, uh, an unnamed person responded Jesus Christ. 

Full-stop [00:08:00] end of text message, which I think is great because it first suggests that Jesus Christ is the answer to your problems. And also I think is very representative of, especially the fellowship that you got. And, um, so I don't want to. I feel like I've been talking a bit too much already, but I thought I'd like to just expand slightly on this. 

All previous awardees have CVs, they make you want to cry. So when I first heard about this, the Sir Henry Wellcome thing, um, I think I heard it in the context of Steve Fleming, who, um, is now a professor at UCL. I'm not exactly sure what his exact proficiencies, but, um, you know, he has the kind of CV way you want to compare yours. 

If you compare your side to side, there's just no point at which you could compete.  

Toby Wise: Yeah, no, you'll never come out of that feeling very good about yourself.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Cambridge and had like a first and then got into the UCL Wellcome trust PhD, which is, I think the most competitive [00:09:00] 50 program in the UK, in for neuroscience had a science publication worked in Ray Dolan's lab. 

Toby Wise: Uh, I  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or was  

Toby Wise: or I think it did, I didn't ever use between multiple apps, but he certainly worked with Ray at some point.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And at some point you go like, okay, there's just no point I compete with the, and how you're supposed to be better than this. And then I heard of Demis Hassabis who, um, you know, was a tech child, prodigy and chess. And, um, he finished school at 16 and then two, I think bridge the time to university, he created rollercoaster, tycoon, uh, one of those very successful, uh yeah. 

As you do. Um, and then, yeah, I've got a first from Cambridge, you know, it's, it's just very ridiculous, the impressive. And so now I'm trying to make a transition without insulting you, um, because okay. Because I think the nice thing about yours is you have, you know, obviously impressive CV, but it seems relatable. 

It's not like at every point you [00:10:00] go, oh, they're maxed out of how impressive that step is. Um, you know, obviously you didn't. You know, sit around for a few years and then walked up to the welcome trust and said, Hey, can you give me money? Um, but I think the nice thing is that I guess for people who don't at every step of their academic career have basically maxed out what you can achieve. 

Um, I think you're an example of someone who's more realistic in that sense and still got it. So, um, 

Toby Wise: yeah. 

I mean, I think the reason like you, I mean, you see those people and remember them because they have excelled in every single way they possibly can. And decided to be, sorry, I mean, that brilliant scientists, um, it's, you can't argue that at all, but then you kind of don't you kind of ignore the people who also get these fellowships and maybe don't have papers in science or nature or whatever. 

[00:11:00] And I mean, there are also people out there who obviously don't know about, you have the papers in science nature and these vertical CVS, you don't get these fellowships. I I've I've met them. I know they exist. Um, so I think we ended up with a very biased view that, that you have to be one of those people, and it's just not the truth at all. 

Those people obviously get these things, but so do a lot of people, who are more, uh, who aren't superstars in the, the kind of typical sense we think of in science.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And, yeah, maybe one question I had here is then basically. Why did you apply for them? Because it seems like you had a, you know, good or very good CV. And, you know, I mean, the reason we mentioned some visas, because you have these committees have to base their decision on something and if lots of good people apply at some point you just end up deciding on somewhat random topics, like where someone went or, you know, general impressions. 

Um, so I was just curious, like, when you say, when you ride, like here, that it seems like everyone else was so much better than you you've got to water the thing. Well, why did you fly then? Or how did [00:12:00] you, how, w what was your thought process like at  

Toby Wise: uh, it's a long time ago, but, um, I think so one thing was that I'd seen those people, but I'd always seen other people obviously. Had he didn't have, you know, like I said, papers in science or whatever, and had still been successful. I'd also been to a session at my university where they'd kind of given us a bit of detail about what panels are looking for on these things. 

And that I think made it seem like a more realistic goal because they've made it clear that you don't need the most impressive CV CV in the world. There are other things that you'll be judged on. And so I think it ultimately became clear to me that I was in a position where I would have a relatively decent chance as far as my CV went. 

Um, and so then? 

you know, I was someone who valued independence and thought I would really enjoy being able to kind of drive my research in the way that fellowship allows you to do so I thought, why not give it a go at worst? I don't get it. And I've wasted a little bit of time, but [00:13:00] it just seemed like it was worth the try at least.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So maybe, I mean, I guess in step one, deciding where the fellowship route is for you. Um, and you touched on it, one of the criteria for you was that you like the independence and that kind of thing. So I'm just curious, who is a fellowship for, and who should maybe, I mean, assuming you want to do research and say in academia, um, who is a fellowship for, or who should maybe not because they're not good at anything, but just because of whatever reason for who might, for example, applying for a position in someone's lab with the PI got funding, be more appropriate for 

Toby Wise: Yeah. So, I mean, obviously, as you mentioned, if you was conversation that you do want to focus on research and in academia as well, if you care more about teaching than a fellowship, honestly, wouldn't be the best approach. Um, I know some people just find that they would rather have more kind of guidance training for their post-doc. 

Yes. Um, in a way that you [00:14:00] don't get so much with a fellowship where more of the responsibility is on you. So basically if you have a fellowship, you do work in people's labs, but the idea is that you are the one who's coming to the research questions and identifying the places to work. And essentially you're responsible for leading the direction of that research as well as the day to day. 

And so you don't necessarily have that kind of more hands-on guidance through your research career that you'd get from a standard postdoctoral position. You don't have someone telling you, okay, here's a research question that I think we should investigate here is how I think we should do it. And, um, and yeah, yeah, exactly. 

Which, which can be valuable , and which I know some people definitely kind of prefer that approach. So yeah, it's not that one's right. Or one's wrong. It's very much whether you would rather have that independence or have that more kind of guided route through your. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, that's one thing I always thought about because it seems to me that I've kind of found something I want to do and that , obviously I'm combining [00:15:00] elements that are already there, but the thing that I exactly want to do, I don't see anyone really doing. So it seems to me that for that kind of thing, a fellowship might be, uh, you know, if I were to get one, that would be a good idea. 

Um, because I could kind of, you know, go to person a, who's doing something and person B who's doing something and kind of combine them.  

Toby Wise: Yeah. I mean, that's exactly the sort of thing that they're, they're grateful. Um, 

and yeah, 

it, it does depend on. Also, I guess like you kind of tend to get that, having your own research idea as well. If you don't, you come up your PhD, just thinking like I'm vaguely interested in this, but I don't really know exactly how I want to do it. 

Then, you know, there's no point in applying for a fellowship because you wouldn't have a proposal to put, but put up in front of the committee in the first place. But if it is that, you know, you've identified this problem and there's not necessarily a one working on that as a whole, then that's a perfect opportunity to try and get some funding to do it yourself.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So, do you remember how you developed your idea? Like, did you, [00:16:00] did, was it like clear from you from the beginning? Oh, I have this thing I want to do. Or was it more, you know, you heard about fellowships that you could do your own thing and then you're thinking like, well, what could I do or, yeah, kind of what was the, because I think if I remember correctly, your PhD seems slightly different from what you did in your fellowship grant. 

Can you maybe like very briefly summarize what you did in your PhD and  

Toby Wise: yeah. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: A fellowship. 

Toby Wise: My PhD was quite different. So my PhD was basically structural and neurochemical imaging and neuroimaging in people with depression and bipolar disorder. And then I, my fellowship. 

I went on to look at kind of computational modeling most of your behavior, um, with a bit of imaging as well, uh, focused on anxiety. 

So it was quite a change I'd never done any, any kind of computational modeling or anything in my life before. Um, but I I'd learned a bit about it enough that I could put together a proposal.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, I guess it's not like a complete 180, right? Because you were still doing neuro imaging and psychiatry,  

Toby Wise: Yeah. It's the sort of thing where I think if I'd been proposing to do it without any support [00:17:00] and training, you know, without working with people who were experts in that field, you anyone would have laughed at the idea. but with that, with the support provided by the fellowship, then that it kind of made it a bit more realistic. And I think a possibility what it wouldn't have been otherwise.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. So how did you go from one to the other  

Toby Wise: So, so yeah, I I'd been getting into kind of 

computational psychiatry, essentially. Just I'd been to the course run at UCL and I've been reading these papers and talking to people about it. And I found it interesting and I thought it's something that I wanted to pursue a bit further. Um, and so at the same time as learning that fellowships were a thing, and maybe I could apply, I was getting into these ideas and sort of coming up with, you know, thick hypotheses. 

I think I, I thought I wanted the test. And So I, you know, I bounce things off people who knew more than me to see whether they reasonable and eventually kind of managed to come up with an idea 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So this was still people like within your, you know, people you're working with or where you're already asking, [00:18:00] you know, people whom, who might supervise you for the postdoc or yeah, 

Toby Wise: So this year, I was just kind of chatting to people who I knew here, like other PhD students. And post-docs when I was doing my PhD, just because I very much wanted to, you know, someone to just say, okay, yeah, 

you're not being completely stupid. This seem reasonable because you don't know all the time. Um, and I think I talked to a couple of people, I knew who, who a bit more senior and, um, had had relationships themselves. 

Um, and so, yeah, 

Then once I did that, then it was kind of moving on to finding who I wants to work with and talking to them about it.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Cool. So I guess by now people would probably roughly know whether a fellowship might be for them or not. Um, who, if you've been listening to this  

Toby Wise: I'd also say though, like, you know, again, don't doubt yourself. I think it's 

worth applying for these things. Even if you genuinely believe you don't have a particularly good shot because it does help you kind of form ideas for your future research and it helps you make connections with people as well. 

So it's not, you know, even if you don't get it, it's really not [00:19:00] wasted time.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, I guess the, the, the point maybe is also. You think you have something you want to do rather you, rather than you think you've got the brilliant idea that the field needs and that's the best thing that ever, right. It's more about like how much independence do you want in your, in the next position basically. 


Toby Wise: exactly. yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So step two, think of a rough project idea. I guess that, so I had a, should maybe finish one thought before I start the second. Um, so step two is think of a rough project idea. And I guess how closely this relates to your previous research really depends on the scheme. 

I would imagine. So I recently saw some sort of word document that like guests, the welcome trust gave out because they've for, for, for this, uh, Henry Wellcome fellowship because they're, they had like four completely different examples of like one person wanted to continue more or less doing what they did. 

Someone else wanted to like go from. I don't know, humans to animal [00:20:00] physiology, something and needed a completely new training one person, you know, whereas I'm assuming there's probably some fellowships that I'm much more closer to like, show me that what you did before and how you're going to continue that. 

But, um, 

Toby Wise: yeah. I think it, it would depend on the funder And the scheme , some funders are generally more risk averse generally. We'll be less happy to entrust you with something you've never done before, where there's like the Wellcome Trust are generally quite happy for you to go and do something new as long as you're well supported doing it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. And I guess also, like right now, we're still talking about not writing the proposal, but it's kind of just having an idea of what you want to do. Um, so you can then, um, steps three and four are find the fellowships scheme and identify potential sponsors and talk to them. So. I guess finding a fellowship scheme seems like a pretty obvious tip. 

Um, although one thing I always find surprising is how difficult sometimes it [00:21:00] is to find funding opportunities that are already out there. Um, do you have any advice for, is that you think that would be like a central database? Right. But there seems to be lots of like schemes where sometimes there's like a small thing here or,  

Toby Wise: yeah. 

so that someone has made a database that I've seen on Twitter before. So there is, I don't have to find it, but there is a database out there specifically of postdoctoral fellowships 

all around the world as well. Um, otherwise aside from just kind of Googling yourself , most universities will have some sort of research funding office. 

Um, he'll be able to direct you to relevant schemes. Generally they have grants officers who, who know what's out there and what you could apply for with, with postdoctoral fellowship fellowship, specifically, the opportunities are relatively limited. So for example, in the UK , the welcome, just have a post-doctoral fellowship and then a more senior one. 

Uh, but like the medical research council don't have the same equivalent of that kind of postdoctoral fellowship that [00:22:00] there are some sort of things going on there, but not, not the same fellowship. As, as the welcome trust where you literally get given your own money for five years and get to do your own thing. 

Um, so Yeah. I think many funding agencies are not quite so happy to give out a load of money to someone who's just finished their PhD as they might be someone who's more senior. Um, unfortunately,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, I guess these, yeah. I mean, I guess, um, maybe finding a fellowships game is also part of the people you'll be working with the potential sponsors or supervisors or whatever you want to call them, because I guess they all be more aware of schemes in their country, et cetera, in, because I think that's a huge difference, right? 

Like, Because I'm putting Europe, the Marie Curie thing is a fairly big one if you're changing countries. I think, I think, I think, yeah. Um, I think Germany, for example, has a fairly large exchange fellowship scheme from the German foreigns. I don't know what it was called, the DAAD. So I think like these are probably really specific [00:23:00] to where you're from, where you did your PhD, where your next supervisor, whatever it is and 

Toby Wise: Yeah, And then they will have already eligibility criteria as well that you need to be aware of in terms of potentially your nationality or where you've done your PhD. Um, so Yeah. 

it's not necessarily straightforward. These things do require a little bit of work to figure out, unfortunately.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. But I think the good thing is also that there are often more schemes than one might think just because they're not it's, you know, it's not as obvious as you have the welcome trust and they have one scheme. It's like you have all these other things. I mean, like one really random examples. 

So this is just from my master's, so it's different, but the principle is still the same that, so I did the Dual Masters what's it called? Dual Masters in brain of mind sciences. That's one year at UCL and one year in Paris. And, um, so I, by pure chance happen to live with someone who was French in London. 

So I was in London and she [00:24:00] happened to be living with her. And she had applied for a scholarship from the British embassy for French people to come over because there's this , Entente Cordiale scholarship that, um, was set up like 50 years ago, something full postdoctoral students from the UK to go to France and France to go to the UK. 

I applied. Like I only, because I was living with someone who happened to be from the other direction, I even found out about this and I applied and got it. Right. Like, and I think one of the reasons I got it is because no one knows about it.  

Toby Wise: Yeah, 

no, there, there are loads of these like relatively small pots of money out there that can, can fund these sorts of things. Um, but yeah, they're often a bit hard to find unless you know  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. And I've yeah. I've I mean, yeah. It's, I mean, I'm glad because you know, otherwise good people would have applied. Nobody forgot it, but still it's just, yeah. Um, anyway, so I guess the, it seems to me like one of the biggest steps here is finding people who will sponsor you for your [00:25:00] fellowship. 

Right. I say that as, as if I had that thought myself, but I realized the first line is a fairly crucial step is finding sponsors. So I guess I'm just plagiarizing you here. Um, but the, um, so how'd you go about doing that? I mean, does it, yeah, maybe how was it in your case? Maybe let's start there. 

Um, I mean, I guess Ray Dolan is always an obvious idea. If you want to get fellowship sponsoring but. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. In my case, I spoke to a couple of people because I haven't worked in this field before. I didn't really know necessarily. I knew who some names were, but. 

I didn't know who it'd be best to work with. So I spoke to a couple of people I knew about this and got some recommendations. It seemed like, yeah. 

Uh, the Max Planck Centre at UCL was the best place to be and so I actually reached out to my other sponsor first, uh, Peter Dayan. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, it didn't realize he was winning responses.  

Toby Wise: yeah, sorry. It was human him and Ray Dolan and Dominik Bach[00:26:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: In London. But it'd be your words. Are you a with working with Dean Mobbs at Caltech,  

Toby Wise: yeah, things changed.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: oh, okay. okay.  

Toby Wise: but yeah, things change as they don't have to  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I didn't write. I 

Toby Wise: the fellowship. Um, but I I'd reached out to Peter partly because, um, yeah, 

He, he really is one of the most respected kind of computational neuroscientist in the world. And I kind of thought know if I'm proposing something that's completely stupid, I'd rather kind of go to him directly and have them dealt with that, then sort of get excited. 

This is going to be a thing. And then later tell him, having told me I'm going to do it. But no, thankfully he was very supportive , as he always is. And he put me at them, kind of put me in touch with Ray and, and then, uh, we ended up kind of putting the puzzle together. Um, and I, yeah, 

they invited me to go and give a talk at the max plank center. 

And so I got to meet with people there , which was tough, but very enjoyable as well. Um, so yeah. 

and Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: just out of curiosity. So, I mean, I mean, by, by random chance, I guess I know that Dominik Bach was in Zurich [00:27:00] because number one, I actually almost applied for PhD with him, but then I ended up getting a PhD with one of his former post-docs Christoph Korn. Um, and so I, so Y how you wanted to go to Zurich or what was the  

Toby Wise: Yeah, so that was the original plan? 

Um, but then it could have warned me in advance, but Dominic ended up moving to, to the max plank center at UCL. Um, and for personal reasons , I wanted to go to America. So,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Right. Okay. 

Toby Wise: uh, So the two things kind of combined to make it make more sense to go elsewhere. And it worked out very well.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: find someone else.  

Toby Wise: Yes. I mean, I would always want to, like, I, I know that I always wanted to work with Dean anyway, cause he's always done really exciting stuff. So it all worked out perfectly. Um, it wasn't my plan, but it worked out very well, but I mean, there's as much as you propose something very clear and well-thought out for the fellowship many times that this is not what you ended up doing because things do change. 

Um, and you kind of. [00:28:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But sir, I mean, I know that these are like, it might seem like a diversion, but I think this kinda stuff is actually important to know that like, it seems like from the outside can see when, like, when you're doing this , oh no, everything's like not working out, but it seems like that you're saying like, that's just kind of part of applying for fellowships though. 

Toby Wise: Yeah, it is. In terms of, do you mean in terms of how it plays out once you've actually got the thing or in terms of the application itself?  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Uh, okay. So, I mean, Maybe actually the, the, to, to answer your question with another question is, did, did this change, like during the, as I assumed this change during the application process, or is it more, you got the thing awarded, then you realize like, ah,  

Toby Wise: Yeah, it was, it was the latter after, after I've been lucky in doing it for like a year or something. Um, so yeah, it was a  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And then the welcome trust was just fine with you  

Toby Wise: Yeah. I mean, as long as I could show that, I had a plan in place and adequate support, it was okay. It's not, again, it's not an uncommon situation. And  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, I guess [00:29:00] academics make all the time. I mean, I started my PhD in Hamburg and now I'm in Heidelberg, so  

Toby Wise: Yeah. yeah. These things happen. So  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay.  

Toby Wise: I guess? I can, I,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yes,  

Toby Wise: a bit on the, on sort of finding people to work  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. That'd be great. 

Toby Wise: I think it's going to vary from person to person, because it may be that you already know people who you'd like to work with, you know, where I was kind of switching fields about. I didn't have that, um, those kinda relationships in place, but something that's I think quite important to note is that often, particularly for the fellowship I had, but I believe for others as well, you shouldn't be proposing to work with people you've worked with. 

 So it's generally recommended that you go and find a new lab somewhere so that you're not just basically doing a continuation of your PhD. They want you to be working on new ideas with new people and I'm really taking advantage of the independence you get. I think there's always a concern. 

If you stay at the lab, you you're waiting for your PhD, that you're still be working on to your PhD [00:30:00] supervisor, you'll be working on the same stuff you've done 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it doesn't sound very independent. 

Toby Wise: exactly. So yeah, there are, I'm aware of some cases where people who've got them working with the same supervisor during their PhD. But generally that's not recommended and even you should go to a different institution. 

So it's not just moving labs, it's  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, the welcome trust even says like you should do two different ones, right? Like one outside the UK, even. Right.  

Toby Wise: Yeah. So  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: in that. 

Toby Wise: I don't know. So they've, they've changed all their fellowship funding schemes now. And I can't remember what the guidance is for the new one, but, um, for the other one, when I applied for the one I had. Yeah. 

It was a requirement that you spent at least some time in a different lab. I can't remember if we sat outside the UK or not, but I think it's generally assumed that you would go outside the UK.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I guess you can do independent work with your PhD supervisor, but yeah, it does look basically like you, I mean, either you didn't finish what you meant to finish a  

Toby Wise: Yes, exactly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. You're just continuing. Yeah. Yeah. It just doesn't sound very independent. [00:31:00] Yeah. I I'm really wondering about this for me, because it seems to me, I kind of have, it's a really weird thing where to, you know, let's just say I work in like social neuroscience or you might put it in your economics or whatever, like decision making and social situations. And that uses a bunch of neuroscience, a bunch of psychology economics. Um, and, I don't even know who I would go to right now. 

I don't have like an obvious, I feel like, you know, I've got my idea. Um, that's, you know, somewhat vague, but also somewhat becoming more precise. I mean, is it just a matter of. Yeah, contacting people and who you think might be good. And then maybe they say, actually, no, this doesn't really work, but you know, I know this person who might help you out that, oh, who would, they might be a better fit or, yeah. 

I'm just curious, like what the process would be. Yeah,  

Toby Wise: I mean, you, you can just email people. Um, it's, it's obviously always going to be better if you have some sort of connection already, because that always helps, unfortunately, but yeah, 

[00:32:00] you can just email people and often people will be quite open to potential fellowship applicants asking them for support. 

obviously, because most people are quite nice And what the health house with 30 heroes carry researchers, but also like selfishly, um, you know, if they get a funded postdoc in their lab that, you know, they can't really complain. So there are multiple motivations for people to want to help out. Um, you know, as long as you have  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: thing is also, they only get, like they only get a postdoc. If the app, if the proposal is good  

Toby Wise: yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: today, they only get a good stuck yet. 

Toby Wise: I mean, we shouldn't be too cynical. I genuinely believe that most people are doing it. I do do support people in this because they, they want to help out and they've been there themselves. Um, uh, so Yeah. 

you can just email people and ask about these things as long as you're someone who seems reasonably competent and has some sort of CV. 

Um, I don't think anyone's just going to kind of shoot your way and tell you to give up for you or anything like that. People, you know, will be open to [00:33:00] talking about it. And Yeah. 

If even if they can't personally themselves help you out, they may put you on to other people, if you can.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I guess, I mean, I have related to the cynicism, I have one question which is. Maybe I, maybe this is again, some of the like selection bias or whatever that you mentioned, but it seems to me that basically everyone who's in that scheme, at least the one you're in is in one of the very famous labs as a, as a post-doc. 

Right. I mean, you're an example of this yourself, right? How necessary is that? It seems to me almost, when you look at like the list of labs, where, or the labs where people do these fellowships in, it can sometimes seem like why would I even contact someone who's not at a famous university or famous name? 

Because it seems like only the,  

Toby Wise: Yes,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: know, only the big names will be selected. So it's,  

Toby Wise: I,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: difficult. Yeah. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

There is a certain element of that, which. Probably isn't how it should be. But, uh, thirdly, that is how [00:34:00] it, I think, seems to work because I mean, ultimately part of what you're being judged on is how well supported you will be in the lab that you're going to. And if that lab has a real track record of producing world-class research over decades, you know, there's no question there at all. 

If you're proposing to go and work with someone who has been at PI for one year and it's supervised like one PhD student, then there's a bit of a question about whether that person's gonna be able to give you the support that you need. So it's not ideal, but I think that is something that plays into it.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, I also, it to maybe like, not make it, you know, I'm not actually that cynical about it because, you know, obviously, as you said, like if you work in Ray Dolan's or Peter Dayan's lab, like yeah. You're, if they also have chosen you as someone they want to work with,  

Toby Wise: Yeah. That's  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: seems like that's like, yeah, you'll probably do well. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

Yeah, It's also yeah. Having their endorsement. Um, and as part of these applications, often you need reference letters, letters of support from those people. And so if you have a world [00:35:00] famous neuroscientists saying, yes, this person is great and I want them to work with me. That's not going to do it in, you do any harm. 

Um, but I, like, I should say, I know people, you've got these things work in less famous labs and, um, at less well-known universities and you know, that's obviously worked for them. So it's not, you don't, it's not something you necessarily need.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: no, no wonder also to what extent that's just a, don't exactly what the bias would be. Would this be selection bias? I'm getting confused with my biases, but of course you, um, if people think that then they'll be more likely to contact the big names in the first place. So there'll be more applicants from those places anyway,  

Toby Wise: yeah. 

And the other thing that happens is people who are applying with those labs are working with people who have more experience of applying for these kind of grants themselves. And so you get potentially better support and better advice in the application process and make that makes you more likely to get it in the first place. 

So there's that factor as well. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You'd figure Ray Dolan would know how to write a grant application by now. 

Toby Wise: Yes. So [00:36:00] I think there are multiple reasons. Um, but Yeah. 

I, like, I would say work with the person who is, who is the best person to work with. And that, you know, that's ultimately what they should be judging you on is, you know, if you're choosing to work with the people who are the best people to work with, who are going to give you the best kind of training and support, then as long as you can explain that and justify it, I don't think you should encounter any major problems.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, one thing you mentioned that I hadn't, I was kind of aware of it, but not as explicit as you just made it, which is the letters of support from your sponsors or from referees. Um, what do, what were they write if you know that don't maybe know you beforehand? Is it, is it a kind of thing where they, where they would say like, oh, I've, I've seen Toby's publications and they're good publications and his proposals good. 

Or like, I mean, what do they write if they haven't, if they don't know you that well yet. And it's because they can't say the proposal is good, because like that's what  

Toby Wise: well, [00:37:00] yes, I know 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: is judging. 

Toby Wise: they can comment on your, your, your history of research. And normally before, before they agree to support you, you, you will have met them a few times. You may have presented to them. You may have, you know, who knows you may have met at a conference or something like that. 

They've probably got some idea of who you are, what you couldn't doing, and whether they. It's good. And they probably wouldn't be supporting you if they didn't think you're doing good work. Um, so they, they can comment on, on your CV. I wouldn't worry too much about it because the people who will be writing these letters of support for you have normally done them before and know what to, what to say.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: They also have a like conflict of interest in writing you a good  

Toby Wise: absolutely. Yes, I know. But I think it's in terms of letters from your sponsors, more of it, you know, just making sure that they are fully committed to supporting you. You know, if you get a letter that's just like, has inaccuracies or says anything, you can assume that maybe that maybe that PI has just kind of done this as, as a formality, just because someone [00:38:00] told them they had to. 

and aren't really being that supportive, but otherwise Yeah, 

It's yeah, 

it shouldn't be the sort of thing that's gonna make or break your application.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, okay. So I guess we're now onto, so I guess we're assuming now you've, you've decided you want to, do your own thing in this kind of fellowship. 

You've had a rough idea of conduct sponsors. They seem to think it's a good idea and say, they'll support you. So now I actually have to apply right now it, the actual application in that sense, uh, so you have to write a proposal which I I'm assuming is the, I mean, it seems also the way from your, from your blog post, that way that the research proposal is the main part of the application itself. 

Toby Wise: Yes, it would be.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: and Yeah, I'm assuming this will probably really differ between ground schemes,  

Toby Wise: Yeah. definitely. They will have all sorts of different requirements in terms of length or things that you need to include. Generally for a postdoctoral fellowship, there'll be less in depth than they would be for a more senior [00:39:00] fellowship. So you might be expected to write something that's actually surprisingly short, given how much money you asking for. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: you said 1,500 words, right?  

Toby Wise: Yeah. That's what my was, which  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's like what, 3 84 pages in singles lines single-spaced or something. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

Maybe even less, I can't remember now, but it was, it's very, very little, uh, given how, Yeah. how big it seems to you , the projects and the amount of money. Um, but Yeah. other than that, the application is generally filled with other kind of random information about, you know, who your sponsor is going to be, who collaborators are going to be, where you're going to be working, whether there are ethical approvals that will be in place, things like that, which are quite, you know, minor things. 

So the proposal is really the core of it. That's what your work is going to be judged on there. In some applications, there'll be other parts where you might have to give like a lay summary or something like that. But generally the proposal is, is where it's all that. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I was pretty surprised that it's that short, I [00:40:00] guess , in this specific scheme, you know, just to highlight that again. Um, I mean, I guess like my, you know, I've read like my supervisors, he had like, an Emmy Noether grant, which is like a German thing and that's that's to have like three people work for you also. 

Um, so then you really have to outline like what the different projects are and that's, I don't know, 20 pages long or something  

Toby Wise: yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: much, much more detailed and you have to actually like outline individual experiments and that kind of stuff. Did you have to outline experiments or, I mean, thousand front of what seems like you? 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

I mean, for me, it was kind of more breaking it down into, projects that I'd be working on. So it was, I think it was like, you know, first year and a half I'll do you put it one second here? I'll do project two and then I can remember these, that timings was something like that. And so each project wasn't necessarily like a concrete experiment of this is exactly what I'll do. 

It's more, I will use these kinds of methods to answer, ask these kinds of questions and this will give  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You mean something like I'll develop the behavioral [00:41:00] experiment and the computational modeling for this thing. And stop one and part two, we'll put it in the scan or  

Toby Wise: Yeah, exactly. that. sort of thing. So Yeah. 

it. It didn't require that much detail. I have seen others for the same scheme. There've been a lot more detailed, so it's not necessarily that one approach is right and another as wrong. And obviously then for other schemes, I I'm sure there are others out there that will require a lot more detail. 

So it does definitely depend on the scheme, but the thing that's more important than proposal is really selling your idea and explaining why they should, why they should be giving you the money. Which I think is at least as important, if not more important, um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Sorry as part of the proposal, or like in addition  

Toby Wise: part of the proposal. So throughout the proposal you'll want. 

You don't want it. to be literally just like, you know, I want to answer this question. Here are the experiments I'm going to do to do it, to it, to get these answers. This will tell me this. You really need to explain why it's an important topic and why they should be funding you to [00:42:00] do it, and why you're going to be working at the best place in the world to do this. 

So essentially from that proposal, it should be really clear why they should be giving You the money , not just why scientifically it's a good idea. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You had a sentence. I know, actually I copied it and I don't know where exactly is in your blog post, but the sentences, you have to explain why you are the greatest scientist ever to have lived.  

Toby Wise: Yes. Which is  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's step seven. Okay. Yeah. Um, so my question is why is Toby the greatest sciences scientists to have ever lived? 

I mean, yeah. You have to answer this, right. So like, what do you, I mean, is it just like I've published these papers during a PhD or,  

Toby Wise: yeah. 

so actually it generally in the application, there'll be a. You probably want to mention a bit about yourself and the proposal as well, but generally in that patient, there will be some sort of short statement, short kind of personal statement where you do explain Yeah. Why you are the best person ever. 

Um, uh, which the majority of us, we don't think we're the best person ever, but yeah, It's about explaining, you know, what you've done. Like literally the [00:43:00] achievements you have, whether you've got papers, awards, any school grants or anything like that, presented at conferences, just showing that, you know, you've been doing interesting work that has been well received by others. 

And so it is both about showing your kind of competence that you literally have the skills to do it. And also that you're doing stuff that people kind of care about as well. Um, they were sort of starting to make some sort of impact on the field. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: not just, I wrote a paper and put it on arXive and three people have downloaded it, but it's more like people actually care about this a  

Toby Wise: Yeah. Um, and to some extent, this is kind of silly , because the fact that things like grants help you get more grants, is it that doesn't make sense at all, but unfortunately, you know, having those sort of things can, uh, can help, uh, strengthen your application and it's also, especially for fellowships explaining why you are the person for that project. 

So, you know, if you can explain that you've acquired a certain set of [00:44:00] skills that make you the right person to do this work and that, you know, no one else could do it quite as well as you could. And that's always going  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: mean, which, you know, I mean, you're, you're smiling again, was the saying that because you're too modest to actually believe it, I think. But, um, but the thing is also like, I guess like the way I think about it is that I just don't think that many people have thought of all of these, about these specific topics that I've thought  

Toby Wise: yeah. And that's.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: some of them seem a bit random and left field. 

And, you know, I think just many people for random reasons. If you are interested in some slightly unusual things, then combining them will actually make you the expert on that just because there's no one else. Really. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. I mean, as long as, you know, as long as it culminates into something, uh, that's gonna be an interesting and, uh, achieved for research project then. Yes , combining different interests that other people don't have, haven't thought of combining is an easy way to make you stand out as the one person to do this. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, how did you go about the competitional modeling thing? If you [00:45:00] hadn't done it yet? Did you sell that as like the here's a new thing I want to add? Or did you feel like you needed to say why you, how that you were able to learn it or how'd you go about, like, if you want to learn something new and that you haven't done yet, where it might be difficult to say why you're the right person to do it? 

Toby Wise: So most. I mean, speaking For the ones I know about most of these postdoctoral fellowships, a core component of them is training. So they are designed to help you apply some sort of skills that you may not have already. And so in my case, it was very easy to then say , I don't, I don't know this computational modeling stuff. 

Um, I'm going to learn it into, by working with the best people in the world, uh, through this fellowship. And so I think the combination of, you know, having shown that I can do relatively kind of technical research projects, I guess, previously, and that be working with amazing people. And I have a project that seems to make sense, I think is it is probably enough to demonstrate that, that's [00:46:00] a reasonable training goal and that it's something I can achieve. 

If you have no training goals, if there's nothing you're gonna train in, then you're probably not gonna get the fellowship because you'll kind of lacking one of the key criteria. There's no point in, in, uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: this fellowship.  

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

it does. I wasn't giving you money to train in something where you don't need training.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Toby Wise: So Yeah. you want, you want to be like, kind of in the right position, but, but you need to explain the why this fellowship is, is, is going to help you kind of find if finalize your training, make you, you're going to kind of establish you as, as the person who can really do all this work and based on that potential that you have to begin with.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Is, is the, is the phrasing then? Um, I'm, I'm the best scientists I've ever lived, but there's this one thing that I don't know, and I'm going to the best people in the world to learn that  

Toby Wise: Yeah. That's, that's basically it. Um, yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Well, I'm glad you're complete. Now. That must  

Toby Wise: Yes, exactly. Not a single skill missing now. It's great.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, yeah. Okay. I guess the idea is [00:47:00] saying this is something I'd like to learn, but I will be able to learn it based on these  

Toby Wise: Yeah, I think it's, it's also good. If you can show that you have a sort of vision for where you're going to be in the future in five years time And you know, if you can. yeah, 

So if you can say, like in my case, you know, wants to be someone who can use established the computational underpinnings of anxiety and can start to translate that into clinical settings. 

You know, I have this clinical knowledge already. I've done near imaging already. The one thing I'm lacking is all this expertise in computational modeling. So this is going to fill that gap and with all those skills together, by the end of this fellowship I'll be in a place to be able to really start making a massive impact, which like, it feels awful to say that it's stupid, but yeah, that's.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: us, are you 

Toby Wise: I mean actually genuinely, slightly more than I would have genuinely thought I would be. So I, I, it has worked. in that. I have filled the gaps in my knowledge, and I now have the kind of complete skillset that I, that I felt I needed. Um, so [00:48:00] Yeah. 

it did what it's supposed to do. I don't know if I'm going to change the world, but probably not. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But you learned competitional modeling. So that's a start.  

Toby Wise: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, so for your proposal, right? It said thousand 500 words not really enough space to go to detail in terms of like, what exactly you're going to do. Did you never, the less sketch out express, like already have plans for experiments? Either because you just had those ideas or because you, you created them to write the proposal and make it like more realistic or something, or do you not even need to think about that level at that stage? 

I'm just curious, you know, sometimes you might need lots of detail to then ignore it and write the bigger picture  

Toby Wise: Yeah, 

I know. I definitely have more concrete ideas and I've written a proposal.  

I don't know if they're good ideas because I think I ended up then carrying them out and realizing that I need to change them. But Yeah. I thought about it in more depth than I, than it appeared in the proposal. And that also became important when I had to that interview for the thing [00:49:00] later, because then, you know, they do ask you more detailed questions. 

Um, but yeah, th this was just, just my kind of approach and I've definitely again, seen proposals where people have very well thought out experiments in proposal. And that also seems. To go down well, so there's no right or wrong way to do it. I don't think. And it probably depends on what exactly you're proposing. 

I think it probably would have perhaps seemed a little bit weird if I had said that I needed to train in computational modeling and then had very clear ideas about exactly how I was going to do that modeling that I don't know how to do.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: These are the parameters. This is  

Toby Wise: exactly. Yeah. Whereas if there was a part of the, 

proposal that was more clearly based on what I'd done before, maybe more detail would and  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay.  

Toby Wise: appropriately, I don't know.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, so the next step is, I guess we're still writing the proposals. So now we have to rewrite the proposal, which usually is a slightly longer part than the writing proposal. Yeah, I mean, I guess it's how you go about doing that and getting feedback. I'm assuming what would depend on the person writing it and the sponsors and whatever. 

Right. [00:50:00] But again using use an example, did you more or less finalize it and give it to your sponsors to check over? Or did they like right from the beginning, say like, just send me a first draft and we'll like form it together, or how does, how did that work? 

Toby Wise: Um, I think I got to the point where I thought it was done, um, and then  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And they're like, thanks for the first draft.  

Toby Wise: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Then, uh, I, you know, it, it definitely, it definitely wasn't the sort of thing where it was written jointly , I don't think it should be, um, because ultimately it should, you know, It's it's supposed to be your work and if you have too much input then later on at the interview, I think it will be quite apparent that you didn't necessarily write the thing yourself. 

Um, so yeah, for me, it was very much me writing it and getting feedback. And yeah, just kind of going back and forth until things were perfect. And also, you know, it's the sort of thing where, because it's so short at least you feel like every sentence matters. And so you may well go back and forth over two drafts or just. 

Two sentences somewhere potentially. [00:51:00] Um, and a lot of is about phrasing, you know, making things sound exciting, which in our ordinary scientific writing, we don't tend to do. Um, but people who've got more experience writing grants are better at doing. And so those are the sort of things where you'll see price responses, sorry, really can really help. 

Um, so Yeah. 

it shouldn't be written literally jointly, but you should definitely have a lot of guidance and input from anyone who will give it to you.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And I'm assuming you asked then colleagues, friends  

Toby Wise: Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: have a good thing with 1,500 words. It's not a huge burden to ask someone  

Toby Wise: exactly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: It's not like this like 20, 30 page thing they have to  

Toby Wise: yeah, no. I asked a few people to your feedback and have people were more than happy to, um, and then, you know, I've returned the favor later as well. So it all works out.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it came back to you. Yeah.  

Toby Wise: Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, yeah, I guess I'm finding it slightly difficult. I mean, I guess it's just the nature of trying to make something that's like Wyatt, not just specifically about your thing to kind of make this a bit more concrete, but I guess [00:52:00] it's a rewriting process, right? You have to sit down and do it and. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. And ideally you want to get started as early as possible because it's really helpful if you can just leave it for a week and come back to it and then you'll realize if something didn't make sense. Um, which you wouldn't when you've been working on it for seven days straight. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: always feel like with, with papers when you write them, the best is probably to just let them leave. Like, uh, let them lay for half year. It's not really  

Toby Wise: yeah, no, I 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that would be ideal. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. And I mean, I think it's also, there's also two stages of getting feedback as well. There's the writing and there's the science as well. I'm sorry. Earlier stages. You probably want to get feedback on the actual projects that we're posting, and then later you want to get feedback on the. so you're using to describe them. Um, I think also , I dunno if we don't think we'll come on to this later, but there are things that you need to mention in the proposal that I've not talked about, but which are generally very important, at least for the [00:53:00] one I I had. Um, and I think are quite important for grants. 

Generally, people generally say that you have to refer to the person, the place and the project , and sometimes also add on at the time as well. So, uh, the person is you, why you are the person to be doing the work, which we've talked about, about a bit already. The place is why you're going to be doing it at the best place in the world. 

And why is that place? The only place you could possibly go? And why is That going to be the one, the, the pipe, the place and sponsors who will give you this exciting training and amazing skills that will propel you to superstar them. Um, and then the project, which is the, the actual science, of course, you of.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: should also be in  

Toby Wise: Yeah, you probably need to be doing decent science. And then sometimes also we'll talk about the timing , which is why are you doing this now? Why could this not have been done five, 10 years ago?  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Right? So timing in terms of not your career stage, but more literally the field. 

Toby Wise: exactly. Yeah, because it's really, you know, it always seems really exciting if it's like, you know, five years ago, we didn't have these methods, but [00:54:00] now all these exciting advances have happened, which means we can ask these questions in a way we couldn't possibly  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, that helped you write with  

Toby Wise: Yeah, no, exactly.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: guess like the, I mean, I guess in a way it had been around for quite a bit already, but I guess like  

Toby Wise: no, it's relative new.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: the review papers called computational psychiatry came out in like 2014 and 

Toby Wise: Yes. And is it the famous rule that there always has to be more reviews and computational psychiatry than empirical papers, which I think is now maybe fading away. Yeah. But, but yeah, it was, yeah, for me, that exactly is, you know, we didn't have these tools until recently, and now we can use them to constantly citing questions and, you know, I'm bringing these certain skillset that will allow me to in combination with the training. 

I'm getting  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that just seems like a generic advantage for anyone doing cognitive neuroscience read.  

Toby Wise: Well, ' 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: cause like the fellowship is like biology, biomedicine, right? It's not just neuroscience. Right? I mean, you said somewhere, I think there's 15 to 20 places per half year or something  

Toby Wise: yeah, yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But like, of course there's like people doing cellular, [00:55:00] whatever. 

Right. Um, but it, it seems like cognitive science as a whole field is such a, I mean, most fields are quickly developing a new and everything, but I would imagine more so than  

Toby Wise: I don't know. I'm not sure. I think there, I mean, if you think about the more kind of cellular. Level and, you know, in animal models, the, the advent of optogenetics and things like that, which is still relatively recent, has really accelerated work in that area in a way that we, you know, we've not had anything like that. Yeah. yeah, exactly. Yeah. Like we haven't had the same kind of advances in human, cognitive neuroscience,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Unless you're using like the, the, the, the new Meg sentences, I guess that would work, but  

Toby Wise: yes, yes. But also you need to be using them for, for something new as well. It's not just, you know, we're going to do the same old stuff with a new fancy method. Um, so Yeah, 

I, I think it's, there are always going to be advances coming about, hopefully in most fields, if not, they were kind of [00:56:00] feeling as, as a field. 

Um, and so if you can identify those advances and jump on them, then that's great. You know, it can result in people doing stuff that's considered. Um, for the sake of it being trendy is one, say anything, which I guess isn't a good thing. But equally I think there's a concern that if you're using methods that have been around for 20 years, um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, yeah. 

Toby Wise: now why hasn't someone done this before it maybe it's because it's just not something that's worth doing. 

Um, which isn't, well, I don't like it's silly because that's often not, not a realistic criticism, but I think that's often how it can be perceived.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I think it is a fact criticisms. Like if this is such a great idea and you could have done this ages ago, then why has no one done it? And I think it is a, to some extent decent criticism or question at least. Um, and I think like this, you know, this is, or something I've thought about is like, why hasn't anyone done this? 

Like, it seems fairly obvious. Like what's the catch  

Toby Wise: yeah. Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And 

Toby Wise: This is why it can be helpful as well, to get early [00:57:00] feedback from people who know about this stuff, because they can tell you why it hasn't been done. If there is an obvious reason.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: oh, because it's a terrible idea.  

Toby Wise: Yes. They're supposed to know that upfront, if that is the case  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe I'll ask someone before I apply here. Yeah, I guess step seven, complete the application and step eight, submit the application seems like fairly straightforward steps. I'd imagine, because by that point you already have your sponsor, your proposal, et cetera, range. I  

Toby Wise: yeah. The only thing that can be difficult in complete the application. Well, not the only thing, but one thing that definitely is difficult is if you have to sort out the financial aspects of the proposal,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Like how much you money you need for testing or whatever,  

Toby Wise: So I was very lucky in that the fellowship I had was just a fixed amount and UCL was very happy for me to basically just cost my salary and then nothing else and just say, okay, we know what, how, how much you're getting anyway, it's fine. 

But I know even for that, other people have had to do full costings and for any other grant where it's not a [00:58:00] fixed amount, you have to cost out everything. And that is often a painful process. Um, and can take a little while , and you, you know, you rely on admin departments who have a lot of other grants to be costing other than yours. 

So that's something that you need to think about sooner rather than later, if it is something you need to do.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So maybe whilst we're on the topic of time, maybe we'll ask the question now, how long a head should you think about this? For example, I've got a year, pretty much exactly left on my contract and it will pretty much, I have to finish it at that time. Um, so am I already five years too late? 

Um, I do. I still have half a year. What's kind of the, when should you start thinking of, so let's say like I wanted to apply for fellowship. Um, once I finished here, I don't know whether that's the case, but let's, you know, let's just say I have a year left. Like how should I already start contacting people or 

Toby Wise: I, it's going to depend on when you want to start the fellowship, if you very much want it to be, you know, I finished this thing and then move on to a [00:59:00] fellowship immediately after, and I have no gaps whenever in between, then you'll have to judge it based on the timing of the application cycle and everything. 

Ideally I think you want to be thinking about it at least like six months in advance of the deadline. And potentially you have been thinking about ideas for it a little bit in advance of that. Having said that I know people have applied for these things in like two months and it's been fine. Um, I think generally,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: a, as an aside, I, in my life, every single application, I think that I planned out didn't work and almost at least half of the applications I did, like in a weekend worked. So  

Toby Wise: I, mean, there's so  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: what the, what the lesson is for this, but 

Toby Wise: there's so much randomness in this, but 

like, yeah. 

there's, in some sense, it doesn't feel worth putting in like six months of effort or anything, but I think it's more, more in terms of the practicalities of needing to work out a relationship with a sponsor and get them to sort of agree to be involved. 

And, you know, if that requires you going and giving a [01:00:00] talk at their lab, for example, that's going to take a month potentially more to get organized. And if you need to do costings, you need, before we have that worked out, we'll start working on that, you know, month or maybe more in advanced the deadline. 

Anyway, getting letters of support from people can take awhile. So it's more just giving you the time to kind of relax about those things than anything, and having it be able to get more feedback on your ideas and your proposal. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I guess this, the next thing you can't get much feedback if you've got a day  

Toby Wise: Exactly. Yeah. So the more time, the better, but yeah. people. get them without spending months on them. So it's not the end of the world if you can't do that.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. one thing I heard sometime about applying for grants, I think this was most general or something like that, you know, you shouldn't really see a grant application, per se, as just writing a grant application, you should see it as like developing new ideas and reading papers. 

You otherwise might not read it, you know, like just doing science basically. So I think in some sense, it's also just, you know, work [01:01:00] on your ideas. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

exactly. And you know, I know, I know people who've kind of put together grants and. Even if the guy has got funded that's content into a review paper or something like that, because they've had to review so much literature as part of writing the grant that they thought, why not use 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Toby Wise: Um, so yeah, it's not, it's not time wasted at all. 

It can be part of what you should be doing, I guess, in your job anyway. Um, it's part of it's part of research. So yeah, I, it's not, it's not a bad thing to spend time on it, even if it doesn't get funded.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So you have like step nine is submitting the application again, I guess this. Somewhat, but not entirely specific to the  

Toby Wise: It's it was quite specific to that scheme So I think it's not always the case by any means that you need to.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. It's way too. You mentioned at some point, I think like if you go through the numbers, you said something in a very rough, like half of the people get invited to submit a full application. Then half of those get invited to the interview and then half of those get the extra thing, which means like one eighth of the [01:02:00] applicants roughly get it, which is about 12 and a half percent. 

Right. Very roughly. Um, it's funny. Like at first, when I thought I heard like half off half, I thought what doesn't sound too bad. Uh, you know, I mean, I've applied to things that seem more competitive than that. But then you also think like, yeah, but 10% of people who've like put a lot of effort into this and I'm probably not the worst PhD students to begin with,  

Toby Wise: Oh yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, is pretty tough. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

Knowing the odds is not by generally not good and as I said before, a lot of it is just pure randomness, uh, that you can't control. One panel may look at you and think you're the perfect applicant. Another panel may look at you and think that you've got no chance , which is completely out of your control. 

It doesn't matter what you do. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: How many did you apply for? What did you just apply for this? And it worked  

Toby Wise: but, but I mean only because there wasn't, there wasn't really much that appealed to me otherwise. Uh, in terms of fellowships, I think had I not got this, I would've done a postdoc and maybe looked at other opportunities a bit later, but at the time this was the only one I was kind of interested in applying for.[01:03:00]  


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it's. I think I'm asking the wrong people here for advice for post-doc applications, because you applied to one fellowship, arguably, one of the best ones that got it. And my team has basically made like five people think got the job. I think I've asked you or is  

Toby Wise: I don't  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: kind of just be that easy? 

Toby Wise: I mean, again, I went a different route, but I think with standard post-doc physicians, I really wouldn't worry too much. Getting one at all, you're getting one in your dream lab, doing exactly what you want to do. That's probably going to be tough, but it maintaining employment in, in an area that you're interested in. 

I don't think it's that tough. I mean, I've also heard from the other side, you know, people recruiting postdocs often find it actually quite tough to find someone to fill the position who is going to be, you know, it's going to do a decent job. Um, so  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: heard the exact same thing from people. I mean, my, my, the reason I have a PhD position I think is because they couldn't find a post-doc who would like [01:04:00] fit the role. And here we are now I'm not doing the job properly.  

Toby Wise: yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but I've, I've literally, I've, I've heard it like from people. Uh, to me, it makes sense. 

Like if you added like a small university in a small town that no one wants to go to. Yeah. You'd, you'd not be that surprised if it might be difficult to get some, but I've heard from good supervisors in, in cities or towns or whatever, where you'd think the town itself would attract people and then just going like, no one good as applying. 

Toby Wise: yeah, no, I, yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, I had a supervisor said like even half of the applicants I get, I don't know whether they know who I am just from their like application letter. Like it's so generic. It's like, I don't even know whether they've read the ad  

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

So, Yeah. 

I, I really wouldn't worry too much about getting some sort of post-doc the, obviously the fellowship route is more competitive and more reliant on luck and so it's always going to be a bit more, a risky option. Um, but also like you, [01:05:00] if you do try that and it doesn't work out, you, you shouldn't feel too bad about yourself. 

Because again, it is largely like,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And I think one thing I'm assuming this is similar at the post-doc level, as it is at the PhD level. I remember so in our masters, we were like 20 people or something and all of us pretty good and applied to, you know, the best PhD programs you can apply for and that kind of stuff. Right. And almost all of us got rejected in the first rounds. 

Right. And not everyone, but like lots of people got rejected for several ones that they really wanted to go to. And now when you look at what they're doing is like that doesn't look any worse. Like he'll still do get great, like on paper even it's like, I'm not sure, like the thing you got rejected from first was any worse than what you're doing  

Toby Wise: And, um, Yeah. 

certainly for the postdoc fellowships, by virtue of having had one, I've been got to, lots of people can contact me to ask me to, you know, help with mock interviews or looking over proposals or whatever. And so I know a lot of people who subsequently applied for them and [01:06:00] I've all those people. 

I would not say that the people who haven't got them. What any worse to begin with or have done any worse subsequently you know, the fellowship people who've done the fellowships, they've obviously kind of got to personalize their training a bit more , perhaps go to exciting places and things like that. 

But in terms of the overall career success, I don't know if it has made a huge difference. And Yeah, 

certainly in terms of qualifications and brilliance of the people who've applied and been successful with the unsuccessful. No difference at all. I know so many amazing people who've not got them.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So if you are amazing, you're not guaranteed success. If you're not amazing, you might be successful anyway.  

Toby Wise: Yep.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, anyways, so I guess we've now. the interview stage  

Toby Wise: Oh  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: the most fun stage of any application process. Um, and it's so much fun that you wrote an entire blog post about this. So there's one [01:07:00] basically for steps, one to 10, 10 big interview. 

And then there's another one just about step ten. Maybe I'll start here with something that I, uh, that the Twitter thread I sent you that, um, uh, I'll put a link to this in the description, but I think, so this is something about tenure track job talks, but I think I'm assuming it applies very much to fellowships also. 

Toby Wise: Some  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: from a guy called Jonathan Birch. Who's a associate professor at LSE. Uh, he said I must've seen more than 40 tenure track job talks by now, here are some general reflections on what works and what doesn't. The best job talks. Start by giving an overview of your emergent research program. Then zooming into an example of your best recent work and zooming out at the end to lay out future directions, start and end by generating excitement around your long-term trajectory. 

The work in the middle should be an example of your best work. Not some half-baked unfinished new thing. Save the unfinished new thing for informal chat. The point is [01:08:00] establish that your wider research program is not bluster. You're already doing excellent work. So the exciting future directions are also credible for the same reason. 

It's better. If the work in the middle, it was developing a positive idea, not just saying big shot, excess this, but they're wrong because present your ideas be the big shot X of the future. People in the hiring department will be thinking, why is this work important for the discipline? What is it significance beyond the discipline? 

What is excellent about it? What is original about it? A great job. Talk with, answer these questions so that no one needs to ask. And finally it is hard to get all of this, right. Of course. But that's mainly because it's hard to develop an exciting, incredible research program. The tragic thing is when candidates have done this, but don't explain it. 

You've done the hard bit. Now do the easy bit. And I guess this also applies to writing the proposal,  

Toby Wise: Yes.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: um, but is do, is they, I don't know, this was quite a lot of information. Uh, but is there anything there that you think makes particular sense or that you did do [01:09:00] didn't do  

Toby Wise: every thinking about postdoctoral fellowships, it's a little bit simpler because you're not expecting to have a whole research program by any means, but certainly in terms of explaining. You know why this is exciting project they are proposing and, and, you know, establishing your credibility. 

Um, that's definitely a big thing. The difficulty with, with the interviews that are generally done for these kinds of fellowships is that you don't really get so much of a chance to explain yourself compared to something about a job. It's more people questioning you. And so you have less control over what you're saying. 

Um, so I mean, first interviews are not common to all fellowships by any means , plenty of them do not have interviews in the UK, which again, we generally tend to do interviews. I know fellowships in the U S often won't do them. And there are various problems with interviews, which I think, I mean, it isn't necessarily always the best way of making these decisions, but it is what it is. 

And that when they are done, the format is basically [01:10:00] that you will probably do some sort of short presentation, so about five minutes and then the panel will be asking you questions to clarify things about your proposal, or, maybe ask you about things that reviewers might've identified in your proposal. 

Basically seeking to verify that yeah. 

you have that credibility that, you know, your stuff, you can answer their questions. There are no fatal flaws. And also particularly in tasted case of postdoctoral fellowships, that you are the one who came up with the research proposal, because it is quite possible that, you know, your sponsor may have decided they want some more funding applied on your behalf, essentially for, um, a post-doc fellowship. 

Hopefully that's not something that's done very often, but, um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, is  

Toby Wise: function of interviews to check that  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: sorry. Yeah, it's the, um, just to, maybe add slash question that, add a question to that is that, I mean, I'm assuming right now that by now they've established the proposal. That's good. Like in a way you don't almost need to defend the proposal per se, that much. It's more about like, is it more about saying, is this person who wrote the proposal [01:11:00] and two is good or are they still ready to just still want to find out where the proposal itself. 

Toby Wise: it's going to depend on how they do the assessment procedure. So for some fellowships the shortlisting will be done prior to getting reviews from experts and then they'll send out to review. And so, uh, proposal they've shortlisted may come back from a view with quite critical comments. 

And so then that will, you know, they want to clarify that in the interview. And so then a lot of it we'll probably focus on, on the proposal or maybe the panel members themselves have a particular question about the methods of using because they use them themselves or something like that. And they want to press you on that a bit further. 

So. Necessarily exclude the project. In fact, in some cases it may be quite heavily emphasizing the project. It really is going to depend on, on the panel on the day as well. And there's not necessarily that much consistency across interviews. so I know that for some schemes they are, uh, funders are making [01:12:00] interviews a bit more standardized across candidates so that you will all be asked roughly the same set of questions. 

But otherwise, yeah, it's kind of up to the panel of the day and what they want to ask you about. It could be anything.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yes. I've always, I mean, I guess like a lot of what we've talking about, I've been like the idiosyncrasies of somehow selecting, who's going to be good in the future and how impossible that is. And that it's all luck anyway, but I find it so hard. Like if you're, you know, like where's you said like, it's, it's probably good to have something standardized, but I remember also I had an interview for. 

Some PhDs scheme at UCL. And they asked, I think they basically had list of questions, asked to me it just felt so like detached and unpersonal. I was  

Toby Wise: I know.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: do you not want to like, engage with me?  

Toby Wise: Yeah. Yeah. 

That's one problem with that, that approach. I,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But yeah,  

Toby Wise: yeah, yeah, 


But so the, the interview is generally a horrible experience. I think, as I said, in that blog post, I don't [01:13:00] think many people find them particularly enjoyable because you are faced with a huge number of potentially scary people asking you about all the flaws in your research and in yourself as well, eventually.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah.  

Toby Wise: so it's not fun, but it's something that you, you just kind of need to manage somehow And  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And I guess some of the things you mentioned is also that something seemed worse than they are. For example, I think you mentioned, you know, you often have these fairly large panels, I think feels, you said 15 to 20 people and only like three people would be paying attention to the others. We'll be looking at the laptop or whatever. 

But I think often they set it up right there. They'll have like one day where they'll do most of the people or whatever. So not everyone is there for every person. Right. So they'll just, they're not, they're not really disinterested. It's just that it's not their time to really be  

Toby Wise: Yeah. Yeah, of course. So the whole thing I think does just that whole setup makes it seem a lot worse than it actually is. Um, I should say it wasn't like generally when [01:14:00] I've done these interviews, generally that the panel are, are supportive and do want you to do well, you know, they're not out to get you really, they're not trying to make you feel uncomfortable. 

Um, but yeah, it's hard to avoid feeling uncomfortable in that sort of  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And I guess often for them, you might also have been like the 10th person who came in that day. So they've been sitting there for five hours or  

Toby Wise: Yeah. Or they're like about to go have lunch and then  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's another randomness thing, right. That's definitely gonna affect like, if you're the first person, well, second person of the day, I think you've got better chances than,  

Toby Wise: I, I don't. I wonder whether they've looked at the statistics on this. I don't know. You'd hope they wouldn't be any  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: be surprised there. Right? Like at some point you just like, I mean, we want set up with flatmates, right? After the third person, it everything's just lots of like, in your mind, just like,  

Toby Wise: yeah.  

I mean,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like the context of who's coming and everyone. Yeah. 

Toby Wise: yeah. I think they've already procedures in place to try and limit those effects anyway. I'd hope.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I guess maybe that's why they have multiple people doing it anyway.  

Toby Wise: Yes. Yeah. [01:15:00] yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Um, Is there any advice other than the generic stuff, like practice your talk, be understandable to many people and not just the experts? Uh,  

Toby Wise: probably, um, the frustrating thing for me is that like, I'm, I'm, I feel like I'm reasonably good at giving advice in interviews. I'm terrible at following myself. Um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: that's fine. As long as the good, 

Toby Wise: well, so one of the reasons why is that it's very difficult to know how you present yourself. And so one piece of advice that I would always give is to record yourself, giving your presentation and record yourself. 

If you have some sort of mock interview that you do with colleagues or whatever, because you will pick up on things that you're doing, that you're not otherwise aware of 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Toby Wise: at your, your pick up on the fact you were speaking far too fast and you can't actually understand it before you're saying, or that you're saying, um, uh, like in between every other word. 

So Yeah. 

[01:16:00] that is a very helpful thing to do. And, and not just interviews also just for presentations, generally, if you give a talk it's quite embarrassing and horrible, but it was quite helpful to record yourself and listen back to it before you do it. For real.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: as someone who's done this 50 times now on my podcast, I would recommend maybe not doing this right before the interview for the first time, because you'll be horrified at how stupid and dumb and whatever you sound, maybe do this like a few times before. So you kind of get used to it because you're definitely going to have an initial shock of just your own voice and  

Toby Wise: Yeah. It's horrible. Listening to yourself. Absolutely.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. 

Although you do get used to it. That's the good thing. I mean, I've gotten used to it by now, so I'm not a. It's not necessarily that I think I sound the smartest all the time, but I, I'm not like cringing every time I speak on the podcasts that I had  

Toby Wise: That was good. Let's do it. That would be quite, quite horrible if you were.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I don't know whether this like just numbing of sensation and pain or I've what it is, but, yeah, maybe don't do this the day before the interview, because then you're just be [01:17:00] even more  

Toby Wise: absolutely. yeah, 

I think the other insight is to take advantage of all the help you can get. Generally, people will be happy to help you out with your practicing, your interview and presentation and things like that. And that kind of support is extremely valuable. Particularly if it's support from people who have been interviewed themselves or sound panelists.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: everyone go mail toby. I know you've panels. You said,  

Toby Wise: I've done  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: still you've been in there too. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. I've, I've sat on mock panels for enough people at this point. And, um, I, I know people will find that the mock interviews they do in advance are worse than the real thing , so if you can find some particularly nasty mock interviews, that's always helpful.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I once had someone in L masters, uh, she invited three people to give like a PhD, like application talk or whatever. And she specifically invited me because you said, I need an asshole there. that was nice. 

Toby Wise: It's like, it's  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: can be critical.[01:18:00]  

Toby Wise: it's really good to be able to practice answering stuff under pressure, because then if you do go into the interview and you get pressure on you to answer a specific question about your, your methods, that you're not, that you wouldn't otherwise be competent about answering you're ready for that. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah. But I guess yeah. Practice and recording of that. Yeah. The recording is actually, it's funny that I hadn't even thought of that, but yeah, that's, that's a very good idea. Um, 

Toby Wise: very helpful. But otherwise the, I think the biggest things that I think I've seen in mock interviews, I've done with people that cause problems are number one, just people having problems with anxiety. Um, one reason as someone who studies anxiety, I don't think interviews are necessarily the best way to award these things because some people just kind of fall to pieces in that situation. 

That's, you know, you can't really blame them for that, but practice can help with that.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: how the new research. 

Toby Wise: You know, like not in the [01:19:00] slightest, so practice can help with that , but that is something to be aware of. And the other thing is some people are just not so good at answering questions in a brief, direct manner. You don't want to be waffling on for five minutes in response to every question you want. It is very neatly, indirectly answer the question that's been asked of you. Um, and that can take a bit of practice and again, a hang off. It's also another thing. That's why it's good to record yourself because you often don't know that you're offering until you've, you've heard it back.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Absolutely. Yeah, I think, I mean, I've had to do this in minor things where you're not to for PhD applications or whatever, do something as I like talk for five minutes and then you, your day, I've got this and then you do like a last rehearsal and you realize you're like 11 minutes, longest things. I go, God. 

Yeah. So, yeah. Um, I also liked your, your last point of advice, which is read your application because I think it's very, yeah, it's very easy to forget what you actually wrote in the thing. 

Toby Wise: absolutely. Yeah. Cause often, you know, there'll be quite a gap between you writing it and [01:20:00] be interviewed. So you need to remember what it is you're actually proposing to do. And also if you put a sentence saying you're going to do a specific thing. and you forget about that and then they pick up on it And 

asks you about it. 

You can't just.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: it's like, oh yeah, that's  

Toby Wise: that you  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That  

Toby Wise: know what you're  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah.  

Toby Wise: Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I guess it's particular difficult. If you like develop your ideas and you slightly changes or something, then use. Your new stuff becomes what you think you wrote. 

Those are probably the main things, right?  

Toby Wise: I think so. I mean, you could probably do it a whole hour, hour and a half on just interview skills and  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: On all sorts of things. Yeah. I mean, I guess this is similar to your blog post and more like an  

Toby Wise: as a brief interview, I think we've covered the, the key parts. 

Thankfully interviews are not necessarily for all fellowships, which is a good thing.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: exactly. Yeah. I mean, one thing I'd just like to, I guess we kind of already talked to him about this in the beginning, but that's something that, I feel like it might still be the thing that, might be on people's minds. The most is just the question of what needs to sit on my mind is the question of like, am I even qualify [01:21:00] to apply to this? 

Because for example, like when I think about like, where will I be in a year? Right. I was like, okay, I've, as you know, I've got one publication in Royal Society Open Science, which is, you know, that's a good publication, but no one's going to go, oh wow. You got into that journal. Right. It's kind of like. 

You know, it's, it's a, it's one of those I think, and I'll have another one like that probably, two of those kinds of start, like, okay, you can write a paper, you can take, you know, do every part of an experiment and like that kind of stuff, publication process. But it's, for example, in my case, unlikely I'll have anything that's really gonna, by the point I apply let's, let's say I apply like in nine months or something. 

Right. I don't think there's going to be anything like that on my CV that really makes people pay particular attention to my publication. Right. And maybe just this one question, did you already have that when you applied? Because, um, you know, I never,  

Toby Wise: In terms of  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: when you applied, when the publications were accepted and that kind of stuff. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. 

Um, I [01:22:00] somehow managed to get out a fair few publications during my PhD. Although, I mean, a couple of the ones I had in sort of major journals were meta analyses. So it wasn't a clean data. I collected myself or anything. So Yeah. like CV wise, I would say, I mean, it's, it's hard to judge, but I think, you know, I was in a reasonably strong position. 

But I certainly know people, you've got these things with fellowships. More like your CV is more like yours , and it's not just about having a flashy papers and flashy journals. This is also another thing that will definitely, definitely very much vary from country to country as well. Um, I know funders in UK, panel members and reviewers are explicitly told You, are not allowed to mention, you know, journal names, impact factors, things like that. 

And any comment rates that will be discounted, that, that kind of prestige is still probably gonna impact 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You, you still see it though. It's  

Toby Wise: Yes. And you still see it and it will still impact how they [01:23:00] feel about you, which is a shame , but I believe more like, in America you get that a lot more explicitly so it depends on where you're coming from, but I think it's, it's. 

As much as anything it's kind of showing that you've had some level of independent thought that you've done, you have the kind of practical research skills. And so if you have a paper where you can say, you know, I had this idea, I carried out this project to test this hypothesis. I had, I was able to use all these methods to do it, that I've trained into my PhD and it? produced this really cool output, then that's great. 

It doesn't matter that it was published in a journal that is not science or nature. Um, Yeah. 

So it's as much kind of what you're showing with those publications as where they're published or whether the results are significant even. I get the feeling at least that reviewers and panels are getting a bit more, uh, [01:24:00] a bit less strict about wanting publications in top tier journals all the time. 


Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, it's, it's one of those weird things where, you know, I'd feel stupid, not applying. Right. Just  

Toby Wise: Yeah. Oh  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: but it is something like in the back of my mind, like it's like, yeah.  

Toby Wise: But,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: You know, would have been good bet. If I finished the projects, I started in year one in year one and not like, let it live for three years and then  

Toby Wise: to plan that's Yeah. 

that's unavoidable. But I mean, I would say if you don't have any publications, then it's probably going to be tough because it's hard for the people judging your application to judge, whether you're capable of producing research outputs. If you have publications one or two, you know, that should be enough to show that you can do research, um,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: guess also publication said does not necessarily mean published. Right. Like I remember  

Toby Wise: yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I talked to Matthias Stangl, he mentioned for example, that he, I mean, he had like some stuff from before. [01:25:00] But from his actual PhD, he didn't have anything published when he contacted the people yet. 

But he could say like, oh, we've got this example. This was then in current biology or something like that. It's under review. Right? Like that's of course also much more than,  

Toby Wise: Yes, definitely. And yeah. nowadays with preprints, it's a lot easier to demonstrate that you've produced something, even though it's not actually published and that generally you can put those in your application and they can be counted as part of your CV. So Yeah. 

you don't necessarily have to have things actually published. 

So I would always say, you know, if, if you've got a couple of publications, like one or two, go for it and you know, it's worth a shot.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I guess, I mean, the thing is also I'd imagine, you know, it's also a timing question, right? Like when does your, when is your paper out or whatever your preprint out or whatever. And I feel like, you know, maybe I'm not quite there yet, like during my PhD, but then a year afterwards or something, maybe then I can try again. 

And I already had like the spaces of the application and, [01:26:00] um,  

Toby Wise: yeah. 

I mean, it, it's often the case that waiting a year will put you in a much stronger position because you'll have new stuff out. So in that case, it's probably worth doing it. Um, it's Yeah. It's going to be up to you up to each person to decide when they think is the right time. But you know, what you don't want to do is be constantly caught in the cycle of being in a feeling like, okay, I wait next, next year I will have a new paper out. 

Oh. But, but then the year  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, I got  

Toby Wise: another thing. Yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: or whatever, you  

Toby Wise: Yeah. So I, yeah, don't wait too long, but  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I guess like everything. Just give it a go and see the way hope for  

Toby Wise: the the easiest way to not get it is to not apply,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: probably going to work. Yeah. You're probably not going to get it then. 

Toby Wise: Yeah. You're already writing us out. We don't fly. So, uh, yeah.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: We'll see. Okay. Well thank you. I think, uh, I now perfectly prepared to  

Toby Wise: Brilliant.  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: postdoc fellowships. 

Toby Wise: I don't think I haven't done the thing. I'm not [01:27:00] sure. I would. I certainly wouldn't guarantee myself success again, because there's so much shot like random chance in it. So, um, Yeah. 

you can never be a hundred percent certain that you'll get it in any sense, but Yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, but you can  

Toby Wise: worth a shot. Yeah,  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Well, thanks.