Choosing a Mentor

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:

  1. What are the advisor's expectations of the postdoc?
  2. Will the advisor or the postdoc determine the research program?
  3. How many postdocs has this advisor had? Where did they go afterward?
  4. What do current and past lab members think about their experience?
  5. Will the advisor have time for mentoring? Or should the postdoc  seek out other mentors?
  6. How many others (grad students, staff, postdocs) now work for this advisor?
  7. How many papers are being published? Where?
  8. What is the advisor's policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas?
  9. Will the postdoc get practice in grant writing, teaching/mentoring, oral presentations, review of manuscripts?
  10. Can the postdoc expect to take part of the project away after completion?
  11. How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does renewal depend?
  12. Will the postdoc receive help in finding a position?
  13. 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.