Postdoctoral Fellows Handbook - Sanger Institute

1. Introduction

The Sanger Institute currently has around 100 Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs) who play a key role in our on-going research programmes and are often lead authors on many of the resulting publications. Since there is no other institute in Europe, possibly in the world, where genetic and biological data is produced and analysed in greater volumes, the training environment at the Sanger Institute is unique. The research facilities and resources available are exceptional and therefore provide PDFs with unprecedented opportunities to develop their technical skills.

In addition, the Sanger Institute provides loads of opportunities to develop the necessary soft skills, including leadership courses, project management training, presentation skills, and more. Last but not least, the Institute provides the optimal environment to establish a network, with lots of opportunity to meet and interact with faculty and peers.

In conclusion, a postdoc position at the Sanger Institute will allow you to contribute to the progress of biomedical research, whilst preparing you to excel in your chosen career track.

Welcome to the Sanger Institute!

2. The Sanger Institute Postdoctoral Fellow model

The Sanger Institute has developed a career model, the “PDF model” for its Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs). PDFs hold time-limited positions (typically three years, maximum length five years), and the model specifically accommodates periods on external support. PDFs will typically be carrying out original research within a defined scientific area in a Faculty team, but may also contribute on a broader level to Institute programmes and projects. Many postdocs are here on external fellowships. When not managed by the Institute, they are considered as visiting scientists. However, most of the rights and obligations of Sanger employees remain applicable.

The Institute provides PDFs with a flexibly structured programme of transferable skills training and excellent career guidance opportunities, which are overseen by the PDF Development Committee (see section 4). PDFs have an annual performance review/appraisal meeting with their line manager, and their progress towards the attainment of research and development objectives is monitored. The PDF model includes:

  • Provision of support for postdoctoral scientists through a period of early career research training
  • Planning, developing and carrying out research under the direction of a member of Faculty or other senior scientist
  • Acquisition and refinement of the knowledge and skills (field-specific and transferable) necessary to provide a foundation for a career in science
  • Flexibly-structured programme of core transferable skills training
  • Regular assessment of progress against research and development objectives
  • Formal review in final year to assess achievement against objectives and to evaluate career options
  • Time-limited positions with a clear expectation that individuals will move on to positions elsewhere
  • Personal salary support from either core Institute or third party funding. Encouragement to compete for prestigious and other well-resourced external fellowships

The full document detailing the PDF model can be found on the Institute’s internal intranet, and is well worth getting acquainted with.

In your employment document “Statement of Terms and Conditions”, which you received when you started, many of the things that are applicable to all Sanger employees are described in greater detail (such as holiday and parental leave).

3. Training and personal development

Before we give an overview of all opportunities available at the Institute, it is crucial you sign up to the mailing lists all information is advertised on. By doing so, you will remain updated about all events for postdocs.

3.1. Expectations

The Sanger Institute strongly encourages Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs) to invest in their scientific, personal and career development and supports:

  • • Annual participation in the PDF retreat
  • Annual participation in the PDF spring meeting
  • Attendance at lectures on campus and in Cambridge
  • Annual participation in national and international conferences in your field
  • Applications for external fellowships
  • Skills training (grant writing, presentation skills, GSLS courses)
  • Having a mentor, and regular meeting with that mentor
  • Public engagement and engagement with the media

3.2. Scientific training

Many scientific courses and workshops are held at the Sanger Institute, on the Genome Campus and in Cambridge. Courses to look out for are:

  • The Wellcome Trust organises advanced courses that you can apply for, or teach on. These courses are conducted on site at the Conference Centre and cover a broad range of topics and are typically run for a week. Registration is mandatory and usually closes a few months in advance.
  • The Wellcome Trust also hosts conferences, which Sanger PDFs can attend. Free spaces are usually advertised via email a few weeks before the courses (if not fully booked). Usually no registration is required to sneak into single lectures.
  • The EBI provides many workshops and tutorials, many of which you can attend for free. EBI courses are typically 2-5 days and cover bioinformatics topics. Registration closes late, but is granted on a first-come-first-serve basis.
  • Cambridge University’s Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS) also organises many courses for postdocs. These are typically one-day events with a bioinformatics or soft skills focus. It is often possible to secure a place on short notice. You have the right to book a taxi to Cambridge during the day (for more information see 5.3).
  • National and international scientific conferences. For more information about the booking process see section 6.2.

3.3. Personal/career development opportunities

The PDF training opportunities at Sanger include options such as: project management, scientific writing, presentation skills, time management and science communication skills. Advanced options for more experienced individuals might include: writing project proposals and grant applications, managing colleagues, finance and resource management.

  • Transferrable skills opportunities for all Sanger employees can be found on iGrow (the Institute’s internal Learning and Development Portal)
  • Suggestions for other potential learning opportunities are always appreciated and should be emailed to
  • Training opportunities for PDFs in particular are organised in collaboration with the PDF Development Committee, and usually advertised via email.
  • University of Cambridge: PDFs are eligible to attend courses run by the GSLS (see above) and the informatics courses run by David Judge; courses run by other parts of the University may incur costs (

You can find out more about the PDF development programme on the Institute’s internal intranet.

3.4. Public engagement opportunities

Public engagement (PE) has become an important component of scientific training and a mandatory component for many grant applications. To accommodate this, the Sanger Public Engagement team has organised a program tailored to PDFs wanting to gain experience in PE. The program consists of group and 1-on-1 training sessions, followed by opportunities to practise the acquired skills. In order of increased experience, PE opportunities consist of:

  1. Participation at science festivals: For example National Biology Week (Autumn, Cambridge), Cambridge Science Festival (Spring, Cambridge), Royal Society Summer Exhibition (Summer, London), etc.
  2. Tour guides: show visitors around on Campus and give a short science talk. Target audience varies from school children to the elderly.
  3. Excellence in Science Communication Lecture series (starts early 2015): exact opportunities will be communicated later on.

You will be guided along the way, so make sure you make use of this opportunity to gain experience in public engagement and strengthen this gap (most likely) in your CV. Contact the Public Engagement team for more information.

3.5. Media training and engagement

The Media, Public Relations and Communications team helps postdocs to interact with the media. This is of particular interest for press releases of your papers: contact them upon acceptance of your paper, to make sure everything is ready for the publication date. Other opportunities to engage with the media are the Sanger’s official YouTube channel and blogs. Contact: The Media, Public Relations and Communications Team.

Training wise, they provide 1-to-1 support to get you ready for radio or television interviews ( In addition, they regularly organise media-training courses, instructed by well known science journalists.

3.6. Mentoring schemes

Although the Sanger Institute does not organise an official mentoring scheme as such, it provides a lot of opportunities to meet with Sanger/EBI faculty in a formal and less formal setting. Opportunities include:

1. Mentoring by Sanger Institute faculty:

The Scientific Advisory Council (SAC), consisting of Faculty members and Senior managers, have given their full support for PDFs interested in obtaining a mentor to contact the SAC member most appropriate to their needs to discuss if they are able to be a mentor. In addition to this, some SAC members have identified areas where they can provide specific advice. Please find more information at:

2. Lunch with Leaders:

Mentoring scheme organised by the Sanger PDF Reps Committee that gives PDFs the opportunity to meet with Sanger/EBI faculty in an informal setting over lunch. Please refer to following link for more information about upcoming events: Events will be advertised over email.

3. Sex in Science programme:

The Sex in Science programme organizes mentoring sessions and a yearly Careers Day. If you are interested, keep an eye on your email or check their website:

4. EBI/Sanger (SAC) seminars:

This is a monthly seminar series consisting of 30-minute talks given by one Sanger and one EBI faculty member, followed by networking opportunities in the form of Drinks and Nibbles.

In addition, Sanger runs a PDF buddy scheme, which provides newly appointed postdocs with a PDF peer-mentor, who can help them to get settled at Sanger and in 8 Cambridge. As a PDF you should have been offered a PDF buddy when you started. If you now want to be a PDF buddy for someone else please email HR ( You will then be emailed when new starters arrive. For more information please see the Institute’s internal intranet.

3.7. Networking opportunities amongst peers

A part from the buddy scheme aimed at newly appointed postdocs, the PDF Reps Committee organises a number of events throughout the year to enable you to network amongst your peers. All of them will be advertised through email.

  • PDF coffee: organised every 2 months at around 15.00h. Come and meet your fellow postdoc colleagues over coffee and pastry.
  • PDF drinks and nibbles: organised every 2 months around 17.00h. Similar goal but aimed at those that do not want to lose time during the day.
  • PDF retreat: two-day off-site event organized in the autumn and consisting of a mixture of science, networking and career development sessions. It takes place off-site, from Friday morning to Saturday afternoon, and is completely sponsored (read: free food and accommodation) and supported (read: Sanger management encourages your participation) by the Sanger PDF development and training program.
  • PDF spring meeting: one day on-site meeting organised in spring consisting of science presentations by PDFs, keynote lectures and career advice sessions. The day is closed by a dinner at one of the Cambridge Colleges.

3.8. Seminars: meet the speakers

The Sanger Institute hosts a number of high-profile guests on campus, who give seminars that can be attended by anyone on campus. There are a number of series the Distinguished Lecture Series (DLS) and the Sanger Institute/EBI Seminar Series (SESS) – as well as the SAC/EBI Joint Seminar Series. These are listed on the internal intranet calendar, though it’s easier to see them by using one of the filters at the top of the page.

There are often opportunities for Sanger Post Docs and PhD students to meet the speaker, either individually or in small groups. You can arrange to talk over coffee, about either their subject area or more broadly about their career. If you’re interested in meeting a speaker email Lucy Jobson ( to see if there’s space in their timetable. If you don’t want to meet them alone you can email around the PDF and PhD emails list to find other people to join you.

3.9. Career advice opportunities

University of Cambridge Careers Service has an outstanding range of careers services specifically for life science postdocs, including personal meetings with careers advisors. Career advisers come to Sanger once a month, specifically to meet with Sanger Postdocs. Appointments are advertised through email.

In addition, many of their services can be accessed online, including webcasts of previous career events, career paths and suggestions, flyers for preparing for interviews and improving your CV. The University of Cambridge Careers Service also has an extensive library with career guidance and finding funding books. Knowing that it is sometimes difficult for us at Sanger to get into Cambridge, we have copies of some of the most useful books and leaflets in the Sanger library, just ask a librarian if you can’t find what you need.

In order to get access to all of this information you need to register with the careers service here: Much of this information and support will even be available to you AFTER you have left Sanger – for the rest of your life. Once you have signed up, you will also get regular invitations to careers days and events, such as “How to stay in academia” and “Moving on from Research”. Signing up and making best use of these resources is highly recommended.

More careers advice information is available on the internal intranet.

3.10. Teaching

Gaining teaching experience from Sanger is not that common, but if you make some effort there are opportunities. These include getting involved with Cambridge Colleges to do tutoring for undergraduate students (called “supervisions”), doing bioinformatics training courses for Cambridge University students, and teaching on Wellcome Trust Advanced Courses. In order to find training opportunities and College memberships you have to be very proactive, and don’t hesitate to ask other postdocs how they managed to find and secure opportunities for themselves. It can also be worth talking to the PhD students, as some of them will teach through their Colleges, and might have useful contact details.

For teaching in the University you’ll have to do your homework to find out which courses match your interests and previous experience – the structure of the modules tends to be 10 different from other UK universities, particularly for the sciences. If you agree to teach a course that doesn’t match your knowledge well you might find yourself spending several evenings a week trying to learn it as fast as your students! The format of supervisions is typically small group tutorials for 2-3 students, possibly for multiple sets of students. You’ll then go through material they didn’t understand from lectures, and set and mark essays or problem sets. For most courses you’d teach each set of students once per week for three eight-week terms, with the academic year starting in October. These teaching jobs are never advertised, so you’ll have to find them through contacts in the Colleges. You’ll also need to attend a training session (through the Graduate School of Life Science, GSLS or Personal and Professional Development, PPD) before you’re to allowed teach – as these don’t run that frequently you’re probably better off booking into one of these as soon as you can.

More information:

  • Undergraduate Science Courses (Natural Sciences):
  • Teaching in the University (PPD):
  • PPD teaching course:
  • Graduate School of Life Sciences bioinformatics courses:
  • Wellcome Trust Advanced Courses:

3.11. External grants and fellowships

Finding grants or fellowships you are eligible for often occurs through your PI. However, you can take a pro-active role and search for your own schemes. Sanger postdocs are eligible to an account on ‘Research Professional’ ( Either access it on the WTSI network or create an account using your Sanger email address. Research Professional is a database of funding alerts (among other things) that you can use to search for available funding opportunities and upcoming calls.

Before you apply for a grant, a prelim has to be submitted to the Grants and Contracts team. They will also help you with the financial and administrative issues. Be sure to give them plenty of time before the grant deadline to get everything ready.

Assistance provided by Sanger to support fellowship applications include:

  • Scientific part: talk with your PI
  • The Public Engagement team are happy to help out with some parts of your grant applications, such as the “Layman summary”, “Describe the wider impact of your research”, “Describe your public engagement strategy”. Contact: Steve Scott in the Public Engagement team.
  • The Media, Public Relations and Communications team can help you with providing information about dissemination of research results (
  • The Grants and Contracts team will help you with the financial and administrative issues
  • HR can provide you with information about previous successful applicants in particular schemes etc.

To look for successful applicants or applications to improve your chance of success: email Sanger facultyor your fellow Postdoctoral Fellows.

3.12. Sanger Early Career Innovation Awards

This scheme runs each year, and allows you to hold a grant in your own name. The application process opens in July, with the application deadline, shortlisting and interviews taking place in September. Any money awarded is due to be spent by the end of September the following year.

The Sanger Early Career Innovation Awards competition is a joint initiative from the Sanger Committee of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Fellow Development Committee. A limited number of small-scale research grants will be awarded to early career researchers on a competitive basis. The goal is to provide applicants with opportunities to:

  • Develop their research in new directions
  • Access novel, cutting-edge technologies, equipment or other special resources
  • Build partnerships and collaborations with other industries or academic centres in the UK or overseas
  • Gain practical experience in applying for and holding external funding, including presenting in front of interview panels, proposing and managing budgets and reporting on progress.

The award must primarily benefit the research and career development of the awardee. They must not be used simply to:

  • Increase the length of a studentship/contract or to fund a period of writing-up
  • Accelerate the work of a larger programme
  • Fund travel to a conference or symposium


The following Sanger early career researchers are eligible, based on their status on the 1st October in the year of application:

  • 2nd and 3rd year PhD students
  • 1st and 2nd year Postdoctoral Fellows

Periods of absence due to statutory reasons such as maternity leave will be allowed for.

Application procedure:

The total budget for these awards is £75,000, and the maximum individual award will be £25,000. However, a number of smaller awards may be made depending on the proposals submitted and the selection panel’s recommendations. Applicants are therefore urged to submit the most scientifically justifiable proposal, rather than trying to design a proposal that fits exactly to the maximum award of £25,000. Applications are in the form of a mini-fellowship application.

3.13. College memberships

Many Colleges of the University of Cambridge have postdoctoral affiliation schemes you may be eligible for. The best places to start searching for these include the Postdocs of Cambridge Society (PdOC) website (, and the individual College websites. Sometime positions are advertised which are only open to postdocs of the University of Cambridge. Because Sanger PhD students are registered at the University of Cambridge, the Institute is considered to be a University Partner Institution (UPI), so in some cases you might still be able to apply to these. We suggest that for such positions you contact the College enquiring whether they are willing to consider postdocs at UPIs.

In addition to positions that are advertised on the PdOC mailing list and the Cambridge Reporter ( there are also more informal schemes in which a current member of a College proposes someone they work with to be a Research Associate there. If your PI is a member of a College it’s worth asking him or her if they’d be willing to propose you for such a position.

4. Your rights

4.1. Pay and benefits (Sanger employees only)

The Sanger Institute operates a dedicated PDF incremental pay scale. PDFs will therefore have different pay, taking into account a range of factors including postdoctoral experience, academic and research record, publications and other scientific achievements. PDFs will receive incremental increases with the rate of progression determined by an individual’s level of contribution. Your performance will be assessed in your yearly Appraisal, which will feed into the salary review, which each year revises rates of pay from the 1 January. Individuals who have submitted their thesis but who have not yet had their PhD awarded will be placed on a transitional pay point pending confirmation of their degree.

PDFs on a contract of employment will be entitled to the full range of benefits, including private healthcare scheme, gym etc. PDFs who are not Sanger employees (do not have their salary managed by Sanger) may receive a differing level of benefits due to a number of factors – taxation laws, terms of the fellowship etc, so if you are on an external contract you might have to contact the HR Advisor for your team area to find out what applies to you.

For postdocs becoming parents, Sanger provides parental leave and parental pay. If you are not employed by Sanger, or are here on your own fellowship, Sanger may still provide parental leave and parental pay, but you have to contact the HR Advisor for your team area to find out what applies to you .

4.2. Where to go when something goes wrong

“Grievances” are concerns, problems or complaints raised by an employee that relate to their employment. Issues that may give rise to a grievance include the following (but are not restricted to these): Terms and conditions of employment (e.g. pay), Health and safety, Work relationships, Allegations of bullying and harassment, Working environment, Discrimination.

It is in the interest both of you and the Institute that grievances are addressed quickly and handled fairly. Grievances should in the first instance be dealt with informally and handled by your supervisor/PI. If you feel happy to do so, schedule a one-to-one meeting and let your PI know what the meeting is about beforehand, so they can have some time to think about it and prepare. You are always free to discuss any issue with an HR advisor. Contact the HR Advisor for your team area.

The Sanger Institute Staff Association (SISA)

This is a staff body which represents everyone working here and tries to maintain and improve the working environment for all. SISA representatives are elected every two years from all the different teams at the Sanger Institute, trained in a variety of interpersonal skills and are familiar with the Sanger Institute working practices given in the staff code. If you want advice or help concerning any aspects of your work, please contact them at You can also contact any SISA representative directly and they will help you find a solution to your problem.

You can find more information about grievance procedures and harassment on the internal intranet, and your team HR Advisor can guide you through the process.

Disciplinary action

If any member of staff has any misconduct or performance issues, there are procedures that will be followed. If there is a disciplinary issue around your performance, you are most likely to be contacted by your PI who will try to resolve the matter informally. Further guidance can be found on the intranet.

The PDF development Committee and postdoc representatives do not deal with postdoc mediation or grievances, so will not be able to help out with any specific situation. We are however always interested in knowing how the overall PDF experience at the Institute can be improved.

4.3. Equality and diversity

The Sanger Institute is a workplace that is committed to promoting equality and diversity. We will not discriminate against any job applicant or employee on the grounds of disability, age, gender, marital status, race, colour, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or religion.

Working at the Institute, you should always be able to feel respected and appreciated, no matter who you are. If you feel that this is not the case, you need to make us aware of that, so that any situation can be dealt with in a suitable manner, please see section: “4.2 Where to go when something goes wrong”.

As an employee, you are also responsible for adhering to this policy. If you think that you are not unconsciously discriminating against other people (or yourself), we challenge you to take the Harvard implicit bias test. Knowing about how you are biased against other people is the first step of learning how not to do it, see:

The Sanger Institute has been awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze award for our efforts to promote women in science. The Athena SWAN Self-assessment Team (SAT) has postdoc representation from one of the postdoc reps. On campus, many equality events are run by the Sex in Science (SiS) programme, which are free for everybody to join.

Sex in Science events are advertised via Institute-wide emails, and you can look at present and previous events on the Institute’s internal intranet.

Highly recommended are the videos of previous distinguished SiS speakers.

The Sex in Science Programme aims to:

  • raise awareness of gender and family issues facing women (and men) in science
  • address and challenge preconceptions
  • inspire women and men at different stages of their scientific careers to progress to senior levels
  • inform and drive change for greater equality in current practices and policy at the institutional level.

5. The Postdoc Development Committee

The Sanger institute has a PDF Development Committee consisting of representatives from HR, faculty and postdocs. The purpose of the Committee is to support PDF development at the Institute through the provision and evaluation of training and development opportunities. The committee also reviews any documents and policies that may have an impact on PDFs and oversees the expenditure of the PDF Development Budget.

The activity of the PDF Development Committee and members can be viewed on the PDF committee intranet page. Postdoc rights and duties are outlined in the PDF model (see above), and are continuously evaluated by the PDF Development Committee.

There are usually 8 postdoc reps on the Committee at any one time. The postdoc rep positions are advertised as previous representatives are leaving, but if you want to become a postdoc rep please email Annabel Smith (, and ask her to notify you when new positions become available. All postdocs are strongly encouraged to participate in postdoc activities and organise their own ones through the postdoc email lists, or by other means.

The PDF Development Committee may be able to allocate funding to support these initiatives. The PDF development committee has an ambitious programme for building a postdoc community within Sanger, and for fostering collaborations with EBI and Cambridge University, and we very much like for you to participate in and contribute to our activities.

You can find a list of the current PDF Development Committee members and the PDF reps on the intranet. You can email all the current PDF reps on:

6. Other information

6.1. Contact information

There are two email lists for postdocs at Sanger:

  • – this email alias is administered by HR, who add new PDFs to the list as they join the institute. If you are a PDF, but are not getting email through this list, please email HR and ask to be added to the list.
  • – anyone can sign up to this mailing list a. Anyone can send an email to this list, for instance if you want to organise a social event for other postdocs. Please just be aware that apart from postdocs, members of this list also include Sanger faculty, EBI postdocs, staff scientists, Cambridge career advisors etc., so keep your emails nice and brief.

Many – but not all – emails are cross-posted between these email lists, and this is the best way to find out what is going on in the Sanger PDF community. The most up-to-date information and links for very many useful things are on the Sanger Institute intranet Postdocs pages.

PDF reps email address:

6.2. Travel and conference participation

The pattern of conference attendance in you Post Doc will depend on your lab, so talk to others in your group to figure out which conferences are the most relevant for you. However, we know that several labs suggest that you can participate in one national and one international conference each year (subject to you having significant scientific data to present). Other travel (such as visiting collaborators) is arranged on a case-bycase basis with your PI. In the PDF model there is funding and time allocated for you to travel and participate in national and international scientific collaboration.

All conference bookings and travel arrangements need to be done via the travel office. Please visit the intranet for application forms and policies.

For carers, the Sanger Institute Carers’ Grant offers financial support for any additional care costs that arise when attending training, conferences, collaborative research visits, invited talks etc. away from home. Details for how to apply can be found on the intranet.

6.3. Talks in Cambridge – travel scheme

An important part of your training is being able to attend seminars given by speakers in Cambridge. We have set up a travel scheme to help PhD students and PDFs attend talks in Cambridge during the middle of the day.

If there is a relevant talk that you are interested in attending please email and to see if anyone else wants to go to the talk, before booking a taxi (taxis should be shared if possible). Ask reception to book a taxi by emailing This should be done at least the day before if possible. You will need to say that it has been authorized by Annabel Smith (and cc her on the email – and give them the project code S0797 (PhD/PDF Travel Scheme), together with details of:

  • names of who is going
  • time the taxi is required -pick up point eg from outside Security -destination address and postcode -whether a return taxi is required and relevant details

6.4. University of Cambridge

6.4.1. Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA)

The OPdA provides training and support for postdocs at the University of Cambridge. They will increasingly be able to provide mentoring programmes, accommodation and other useful things for postdocs. They are based in the Postdoc Centre at 16 Mill Lane, and can provide drop-in appointments and meeting spaces, see

So if you are in town, and need wifi, a printer, meeting room, do make use of this service. A description of the rooms and their capacities can be found on: To book please email

6.4.2. Postdocs of Cambridge Society (PdOC)

PdOC organizes social and networking events for postdocs across the University of Cambridge and the University Partner Institutions (like Sanger) and also provides useful information on eg College affiliation.

7. Final Words

Being a PDF at the Sanger Institute is a privilege, and should be stimulating, educational, and social. You have many opportunities to learn new skills, and network with other postdocs, many of whom will be leading scientists in the future. The PDF Development Committee are here to support PDF development at the Sanger Institute, and make your experience as a Sanger Institute PDF a great one. You are also very much encouraged to make the most of the opportunities given, and contribute to the Sanger Institute postdoc community in any way you want and are able to. See you at the next Postdocs drinks-and-nibbles!

8. Authors and Updates

PDF reps (October 2014)

  • Amy Cain
  • Angela Goncalves
  • Dorota Jamrozy
  • Lia Chappell
  • Liesbet Lieben
  • Moritz Gerstung
  • Vera Grinkevich


  • Updated June 2014
  • Updated October 2014