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