Both experienced postdocs and mentors suggest a thorough investigation before signing on as a postdoc. Some postdocs place paramount importance on the prestige of the principle investigator, while others emphasize mentoring. A researcher of renown has great power to help—or hinder—a career; a newer assistant professor may offer more attention, responsibilities, and a substantial role in lab building. Experienced postdocs and advisors suggest the following questions be asked of (and about) a prospective advisor:
- What are the advisor's expectations of the postdoc?
- Will the advisor or the postdoc determine the research program?
- How many postdocs has this advisor had? Where did they go afterward?
- What do current and past lab members think about their experience?
- Will the advisor have time for mentoring? Or should the postdoc seek out other mentors?
- How many others (grad students, staff, postdocs) now work for this advisor?
- How many papers are being published? Where?
- What is the advisor's policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas?
- Will the postdoc get practice in grant writing, teaching/mentoring, oral presentations, review of manuscripts?
- Can the postdoc expect to take part of the project away after completion?
- How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does renewal depend?
- Will the postdoc receive help in finding a position?
- Will the advisor have adequate research funds to support the proposed research?
Enhancing Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineer: A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisors, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies (National Academy Press, 2000)
The Value of a Mentor (Live Career)
Note: Foreign postdocs must enquire of the prospective mentor about the absentee policy for leave. To visit native countries as an international traveler takes time.