Planning Your Postdoc

The relationship between the adviser and the postdoc is of prime importance if the postdoctoral experience is to be beneficial to both parties. Postdoctoral training is of utmost importance in the preparation of scientists for careers as scientific professionals. This training is typically conducted in an apprenticeship model where the postdoctoral appointee undertakes scholarship, research, service, and/or teaching activities that, taken together, provide a training experience for career advancement.

According to a study conducted by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences (“Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers”), the best time for a postdoc to evaluate a potential postdoctoral position is before signing on. It may be difficult to adjust the major conditions of an appointment once it is underway. 

You may want to ask the following questions of a potential mentor/adviser:

  1. What are the advisers expectations of the postdoc?
  2. Will the adviser or the postdoc determine the research program?
  3. How many postdocs has this adviser had? Where did they go afterwards?
  4. What do current and past lab members think about their experiences?
  5. Will the adviser have time for mentoring? Should I seek out other mentors?
  6. How many others (graduate students, staff, postdocs) now work for this adviser?
  7. How many papers are being published? Where?
  8. What is the advisers policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas?
  9. Will I have practice in grant writing, teaching, mentoring? Oral presentations? Review of manuscripts?
  10. Can I expect to take part of the project away with me after the postdoc?
  11. How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does the renewal of my appointment depend upon?
  12. Will the adviser have adequate research funds to support the proposed research?
  13. Can I count on help in finding a position after my postdoc?

A number of organizations, recognizing the importance of this relationship, have prepared reports and weighed-in on the respective roles of the adviser and the postdoc: 

The Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and their Mentors details necessary commitments of both postdoctoral appointees and mentors.

The annual IDP program at Columbia University has been designed for PhD students in the third and fourth year of training and postdoctoral researchers in the first two years of training. See the IDP Program page for more information.