Expectations of a Postdoc

A postdoctoral scholar is expected to participate in full-time advanced research training under the supervision and direction of a faculty mentor in his/her research program, supported by a mentor’s grant or an individual fellowship/traineeship or equivalent support. The training involves, besides bench work, participation in all relevant research and academic activities related to preparation for a scientific career. These include reading and researching literature, manuscript preparation of research findings, attendance and presentations at seminars and meetings, attendance at training related activities (e.g., workshops for grant writing/scientific presentation), and a possible training in teaching related activities by mutual agreement between the postdoctoral scholars and mentors. A good communication and sharing of similar expectations between mentors and the scholars cannot be overemphasized for meeting these objectives.

“Postdocs reporting the greatest amount of structural oversight and formal training are much more likely to say they are satisfied, to give their advisors high ratings, to experience relatively few conflicts with their advisors, and to be more productive in terms of number of publications compared with those with least oversight (p<0.0001) and training (p<.002)” (2005 Sigma Xi Survey of 7,600 U.S. postdocs).

Oversight of training at UNMC (in temporal sequence):

Appointment letter: Oversight  starts with the letter of appointment that details terms of the appointment, salary (UNMC follows the minimum salary level for freshman postdocs), benefits, and UNMC policy for postdoctoral scholars.

Orientations: The postdocs must attend the mandatory New Employee Orientation within a month of joining UNMC (offered the first Tuesday of every month) detailing policies, guidelines, obligations and rights.

In addition, the Office of Postdoctoral Education offers orientation sessions to familiarize scholars with our office, structured oversight, training, sponsored programs, and intellectual property policies.

Individual Development Plans (IDPs): IDPs provide framework for helping postdocs identify their short- and long-term career objectives, set attainable career goals, and discuss their career plans with their mentors. We are encouraging both the scholars and mentors to set up IDPs early in order to reach their respective objectives realistically and successfully without conflict. “A postdoc with an IDP is 40% less likely to be dissatisfied, 30% less likely to have conflict, and has 14% more papers for publication than the one without a plan” (Sigma Xi Survey).

Annual Evaluation:The Annual Performance Appraisal is an opportunity for a manager and an employee to meet and discuss organizational goals and objectives, talk about current performance, and set performance goals for the employee. This process will now be done through UNeVal and the Postdoc Coordinator will handle matching-up the mentors with the Postdocs. Evaluations will be sent out and due yearly two months before their contracts expire. Before the contracts can be renewed, these evaluations will need to be completed.

Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research (RCR): The Office of Postdoctoral Education facilitates UNMC’s dedication to the highest standards of research integrity and commitment to responsible and ethical conduct for everyone involved in research, including postdocs. The National Science Foundation requires training in the Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research (RCR) for all students and postdocs supported by NSF projects.

Therefore, freshman postdocs are required to complete this RCR workshop which is offered the fall of each year.

NOTE: Renewal of the Postdoc Contract is conditional on the completion of this RCR training.

More on RCR:

To succeed in research is a personal triumph that earns and deserves individual recognition. But it is also a communal achievement, for in learning something new the discoverer both draws on and contributes to the body of knowledge held in common by all scientists. Your work can have a direct and immediate impact on society, which ensures that the public will have an interest in the findings and implications of research. Research can entail frustrations and disappointments as well as satisfactions. An experiment may fail because of poor design, technical complications, or the sheer intractability of nature. A favored hypothesis may turn out to be incorrect after months of consuming effort. Colleagues may disagree over the validity of experimental data, the interpretation of results, or credit for work done. Difficulties such as these are virtually impossible to avoid in science. They can strain the composure of the beginning and senior scientist alike. They must confront such questions as: How should anomalous data be treated? How do values influence research? How should credit for scientific accomplishments be allocated? What are the borderlines between honest error, negligent error, and misconduct in science? These questions are of interest to more than just the scientific community. As the influence of scientific knowledge has grown throughout society, nonscientists have acquired a greater interest in assessing the validity of the claims of science. With science becoming an increasingly important social institution, scientists have become more accountable to the broader society that expects to benefit from their work” adapted from On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research (National Academies Press).

Other resources:

  1. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research  (National Academies Press)
  2. Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research, ORI (HHS)(PDF)
  3. NPA website
  4. NSF website
  5. How to get the mentoring you want (University of Michigan)