My Max Planck Postdoctoral Journey: Irina Velsko

Excellence Through Diversity: My Max Planck Postdoctoral Journey

Postdoctoral researchers are the pillars of research activities at the Max Planck Institutes all over the world. To better serve and promote our fellows, the PostdocNet (PDN) has invited some of them to share their thoughts and experiences of PDN. In this series of interviews, we explore what can be improved and achieved.

Irina Velsko , from the US, is presently a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany . Trained as an oral microbiologist, she is attracted to the research at the Max Planck Institute, and enjoys the freedom to pursue the projects most interesting to her. 

Here she shares her thoughts with the PostdocNet:

Why PostdocNet?

I heard about PosodocNet in an email from Yu-Xuan Lu (the co-founder and current spokesperson of PostdocNet) announcing it was starting up and asking for working group volunteers, and I have been involved with the Secretary Group since then. Several other universities I’ve worked at had postdoc societies, which offered both personal and professional development opportunities, support, networking, and other opportunities, and these are goals that the PostdocNet aims to achieve.

What is your favorite initiative in the PDN and why more postdocs need to participate

I am not directly involved in any of the initiatives, rather organization business with the Secretary Group. Our major goals have been to contact postdocs at every institute to spread awareness of the PDN, and to help the institutes set up elections for postdoc representatives. The PDN is a great way to build community for a career that can be quite isolated compared to grad school, where there’s more sense of community (the students come in as a cohort and take classes, and in the MPG there’s the PhDNet). The PDN can help develop community both locally, at the institutes, and nationally, across the institutes. 

What can we improve to better support the postdocs at MPG and to attract more fellows to join us?

The PDN is quite young, so now the best thing to do is keep spreading the word about it and to bring in volunteers to the working groups. And sharing progress updates from all PDN working and leading groups, so that all postdocs can see that we’re active and what we’re working on. People probably don’t participate because they don’t know exactly what the PDN is, meaning what we aim to achieve and how we’re working to achieve those goals. If keep working on how we can communicate those 2 points, we’ll have a better chance of convincing people to join.

What is your future plan and how the MPG and PDN experience get you prepared for it, if any?

I would like to stay in research, although whether that means in or out of academia is getting less clear as I go along. The MPG is a great place to do postdoc, because you can focus on your project without concerns about funding. Working with the PDN has been great for experience with bureaucracy and administration, which is otherwise outside of research training and experience.

What are your advices to the fresh and/or junior postdocs?

There is no structure like at a university, which can take some getting used to. My institute is only a few years old, which means there are lots of opportunities to start seminars, workshops, journal clubs, lectures, etc, but you have to put in the effort yourself. So if you want to start something, just start it and other people will join once they see something happening. There are a lot of resources in the MPG, they are just not always easy to find. Expect to do some aimless wandering as you develop your project, make sure you communicate expectations with your PI.

Edited by Yang Zhang

You are very welcome to share your story as a postdoc in MPG. Please just send your request to the Web/Social media working group ( and we will get back to you