Doing a Postdoctoral Fellowship

The first and most critical decision you need to make is whether a postdoctoral fellowship is necessary for the career that you desire. For most research careers, the postdoc is the de facto terminal degree. There are a number of other reasons one might want to consider a postdoctoral fellowship:

  • Opportunity to learn new skills
  • Time to publish and write grants
  • Provides a competitive advantage over other candidates
  • Allows crossover into a new field
  • Time to explore new area of country or world
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  Finding a Postdoctoral Mentor

Don’t just look for advertised positions. Be proactive in finding a postdoctoral mentor that will be a good fit for you. Ask questions of your graduate advisor and colleagues. Introduce yourself to potential mentors at scientific meetings.

In choosing a laboratory, consider:

  • Publication history – number, type of journals
  • Number of past postdocs - where are they now?
  • Number of present postdocs/grad students
  • Is the research topic something that you are passionate about?
  • Is this a group that is moving the field along?
  Questions to be Answered

Plan to visit the laboratory to meet the mentor and current lab members before accepting a position. You need a personal visit to discern whether this is an environment and group of people that you would enjoy being around for several years.

During the interview, you should ascertain:

  • Current level and sources of funding of the research program
  • Facilities/resources available
  • Length of guaranteed financial support
  • Will you be required/allowed to write a postdoctoral grant proposal?
  • Mentor’s expectations for you - what will be your role in the lab?
  • Technical assistance for your experiments - student or technician?
  • Will the mentor determine the research program or will you have some autonomy?
  • Philosophy on taking part of project as your own independent research
  • Authorship practices – will you contribute to other papers besides your first author papers?
  • Policy on travel to conferences
  • Expected work hours
  • Are there regular laboratory meetings to review progress and discuss science?
  • Does the PI have time for mentoring?
  • Is there a postdoc office that provides professional development training?
  • Other responsibilities/opportunities
    • Grantwriting
    • Training graduate students
    • Teaching
    • Taking additional classes
  Lifestyle Considerations

Other issues to consider in comparing positions:

  • Spouse/Family Issues
  • Childcare
  • Cost of living
  • Housing assistance
  • Salary and how it is determined
  • Benefits (health, dental, retirement, etc.)
  • Relocation expenses
  • Vacation time

Contact Us

MCW Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows may schedule confidential career consultation appointments to discuss any aspect of their professional development or job search concerns. Website questions, comments and concerns are also welcome.

Career Services – Graduate School Office
Medical Education Building
First Floor, M1420
Medical College of Wisconsin
8701 Watertown Plank Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

John Lombardo, PhD
(414) 955-4977 |

Ms. Paris Eason
(414) 955-8547 |

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