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Postdoctoral Associate - Extavour Lab

Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
Closing date
Jan 23, 2022

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Academic / Research
Informatics / GIS
Salary Type
Employment Type
Full time
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Primary Work Address: 25 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA, 02138

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We are currently looking for one or more collaborative, self-motivated Postdoctoral Associates to work in the lab of Dr. Cassandra Extavour at Harvard University.

We work on the evolution of development at many different levels of biological organization and scale. We seek to understand the evolutionary origins and modern functions of the genes that govern cell fate decisions during animal development. Because we cannot understand evolution by studying a single organism, we use a wide range of model organisms, most of which are insects, including Drosophila melanogaster and many other species of Drosophila fruit flies. We also employ a wide range of approaches, because we wish to understand evolution from the perspective of the gene, the protein, the cell, the organs, the organism, and the ecological context. Current and previous lab members have had expertise in genetics, microscopy, biochemistry, bioinformatics, molecular evolution, developmental and cellular biology, and behavioural ecology, and we are always interested in team members who will bring new lenses of inquiry. More information on our research and publications to date can be found on our website.

The Postdoctoral Associate will have the opportunity to study the evolution of development broadly speaking, with some flexibility in choosing the specific technical approaches and model organisms to be used. We are currently particularly interested in scientists with expertise in bioinformatics, biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology, functional genomics, plant biology, evolutionary biology including phylogenetic comparative methods, and ecology, as we have a number of ongoing research projects that would benefit from applying these lenses of inquiry.

Positions to work on two major areas of our research are available:

Holobiome Area: Understanding the animal, plant and microbial contributions to the evolution of specific adaptive traits and phenotypic plasticity, using both Drosophila melanogaster and natural populations of wild Drosophila species in Hawaii. We are particularly interested in the evolution of functional genomic insertions, e.g. viral insertions or instances of horizontal gene transfer, in adaptive evolution.

Protein Evolution Area: Elucidating the biochemical and biophysical basis of evolutionary change in protein function, with a focus on an insect gene whose ancestral function was likely somatic, and which later acquired essential roles in the germ line.

This is an excellent opportunity for someone with expertise in almost any field, and a holistic view of development and evolution to take leadership roles in helping further existing work and developing new projects within our broad intellectual framework, while working with other passionate scientists in a collegial, productive and project-driven laboratory.

The success of our research program relies on open and transparent communication between all members of the lab, and on our flexibility in pursuing unusual new research directions that arise as synergistic products of the diverse array of perspectives in the lab. For this reason, Dr. Extavour seeks to maintain a diverse and collaborative lab, where a multiplicity of distinct personal and professional experiences enhances both our intellectual work, and our growth together as a supportive team of people seeking to learn as much as we can individually and collectively. Dr. Extavour is an experienced mentor with a proven track record of helping her trainees cultivate professional development skills and success in their subsequent independent scientific careers. Former Extavour lab members have gone on to successful careers in academia, industry, education, communication, government and the arts. In addition to professional development opportunities within the lab and exposure to a breadth of scientific disciplines, the Postdoctoral Associate will be able to take advantage of the vibrant scientific communities of Harvard University, the Quantitative Biology Initiative, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria, the Arnold Arboretum, the Harvard Medical School, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as the numerous other academic and research institutions in Boston and the surrounding area.


Education. A Ph.D. or M.D. is required. Ph.D. students in the final year of their thesis work are eligible to apply, but proof of PhD will be required before their Postdoctoral Associate appointment can begin. Specific degree areas include but are not limited to developmental biology or developmental genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, functional genomics, microbiology, mycology, virology, bioinformatics, zoology or embryology, molecular ecology, molecular evolution, experimental evolution, mathematical modelling, biophysics or soft matter physics, plant biology, or reproductive biology.

Experience. We will prioritize candidates with demonstrated experience managing an independent research project to completion and publication. Thus, candidates should have at least one first author primary data paper published, posted to a preprint server, submitted or in press, by the time of starting the position; having at least one such publication at the time of application is strongly preferred. Experience with more than one of the above-described degree areas is strongly preferred.

For the Holobiome projects:

  • willingness to participate in field collections OR in laboratory analysis of field-caught specimens is essential
  • experience with one or more of field work, microbiomes, holobiomes, plant physiology, chemistry or ecology is strongly preferred
  • experience with functional genomics and/or bioinformatics is strongly preferred
  • experience with some aspect of Drosophila development, evolution, reproduction, or life history is preferred but not essential

For the Protein Evolution projects:
  • experience with biochemistry is essential
  • experience with molecular biology is essential
  • experience with one or more of biophysics, bioinformatics, or Drosophila genetics is strongly preferred
  • experience with microscopy, including quantitative image analysis, is preferred

Skills and Abilities
  • Ability to learn quickly and to work both independently and within a team.
  • Ability to work effectively with a wide variety of people from all backgrounds and at all levels of training.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • High level of professionalism and excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Positive attitude with a problem-solving, growth mindset.

Application Instructions
When applying, please include:
  • A cover letter including a summary of your research experience, your research interests, and your interest in this particular role.
  • Your curriculum vitae including list of publications.
  • Name and contact information for three references.

Physical Requirements

Remaining in a normal seated or standing position for extended periods of time; reaching and grasping by extending hand(s) or arm(s); dexterity to manipulate objects with fingers, for example using a keyboard; communication skills using the spoken word; ability to see and hear within normal parameters; ability to move about workspace. The position requires mobility, including the ability to move materials weighing up to several pounds (such as a laptop computer or tablet).

Persons with disabilities may be able to perform the essential duties of this position with reasonable accommodation. Requests for reasonable accommodation will be evaluated on an individual basis.

Please Note:

This job description sets forth the job's principal duties, responsibilities, and requirements; it should not be construed as an exhaustive statement, however. Unless they begin with the word "may," the Essential Duties and Responsibilities described above are "essential functions" of the job, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

HHMI is an Equal Opportunity Employer
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