Postdoc Positions available in Extavour lab at Harvard

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Sep 22, 2021, 8:58:47 AM9/22/21
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The laboratory of Dr. Cassandra Extavour at Harvard University is looking for one or more collaborative, self-motivated Postdoctoral Associates in Cambridge, MA. The Extavour lab works 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. We often focus on the cell types that ensure that the evolution process can take place at all in multicellular organisms: the germ cells, that produce gametes, and the gonads, which house the gametes. 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 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 particularly interested in scientists with expertise in bioinformatics, biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology, ecology, and mathematical modelling, as we have a number of ongoing research projects that would benefit from applying these ways of solving complex problems. 

Projects under three major areas of our research are available:
  1. Drosophila 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 Drosophilaspecies in Hawaii.
  2. 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.
  3. Evo-Devo Area: Using and developing non-traditional model species to study the dynamic evolution of early embryonic, germ cell and gonadal development across 500 million years of insect evolution.
This is an excellent opportunity for someone with an interest in developmental biology, evolution, evo-devo and/or the origins of multicellularity 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 enhance 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. 

Preferred Qualifications

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, microbiology, bioinformatics, zoology or embryology, molecular ecology, molecular evolution, experimental evolution, mathematical modelling, biophysics or soft matter physics, plant biology, or reproductive biology.
Experience. We are looking for candidates with experience managing an independent research project to completion and publication. 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 educational areas is strongly preferred.

For the Drosophila projects:
  • experience with some aspect of Drosophila development, evolution, reproduction, or life history is essential
  • 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, plant physiology, chemistry or ecology is strongly preferred
  • experience with Drosophila melanogaster developmental genetics is  preferred

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

For the Evo-Devo projects:
  • experience with functional genetics is essential
    • this may include forward genetics, reverse genetics, stable or transient transgenesis, CRISPR/Cas9 or other forms of genome editing
  • experience with microscopy is essential
  • experience with at least one non-standard model laboratory insect organism is strongly preferred
  • experience with quantitative imaging 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
Please email Cassandra Extavour at and include the following items as part of your application (preferably as a single PDF attachment):

  1. A cover letter including a summary of your research experience, your research interests, and your interest in this particular role.
  2. Your curriculum vitae including list of publications.
  3. Name and contact information for three references.
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