Finding the Perfect Postdoc

Are you starting to think about finding the perfect postdoc position?

First, you need to decide whether you need to do a postdoc at all.  Depending on your career aspirations, a postdoc may only serve to delay your entry into your desired career or even hinder your ability to get started doing what you really want to do.  However, that is another post for another time.

You have decided that a postdoc is the next step, so here are some key elements to consider:

Advisor:  Many people think that the advisor’s reputation is the only thing to consider but we argue that to have a good postdoc experience you need to make sure that you and your advisor are compatible.  Here are some things to look for:

  • Mentoring style: We all say we want autonomy as a postdoc, but the level of autonomy really can differ.  Some advisors you may never see and getting their attention to discuss data is difficult. Others are more hands on and stop by multiple times a day to discuss experiments, techniques, data, etc.  Determine your preference in this spectrum.
  • Record: Understand where they publish.  How stable is their funding?  You should also know if they have expectation that you will write for your own funding or not. Consider the pros and cons of both tenured and tenure-track investigators (feel free to discuss this is the comment section).
  • Your Career: Pick an advisor that will support your career, no matter what you want to do next.  A good sign is if they know where former trainees work and are still in contact.  Do they have a strong network that you can tap into as you look for your next position?

Project:  You will want to know the project(s) you will be working on and how much you get to define it.  Is it really your project, or your boss’s project where you are doing the work?  Also, does the project have built-in skills development for you to learn new techniques and write grants? Is it interesting to you?

Labmates:  Do you like small labs that feel like family, or large labs with lots of people with differing expertise?  You will want to ask the current lab members about the work culture, work-life balance and the average length of a postdoc in the lab and where past members have gone after leaving.  These are the people you will spend a large portion of your time with, so getting the right fit is key to your overall happiness.

Institution:  Does the institution where the lab is based have career support in the form of a postdoc office or association?  You will also want to know the standard pay scale and benefits for postdocs and whether that is negotiable.  Also, don’t forget about your science and determine if the institution has facilities, such as core groups, that will support your research.

Location:  Yes, it does matter.  For some, being in a big city is the only way to truly live. For others, all that noise and commotion is too much to handle.  If you have a family (or are hoping to start one), their needs are important to consider as well.  Also, remember that your income needs to be considered with in the context of the cost of living for that area.

These are just a few key elements to consider.  Feel free to add a comment discussing other considerations when choosing the perfect postdoc.

 

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2 Responses to Finding the Perfect Postdoc

  1. Anonymous says:

    In my presentations on this topic I also emphasize that while many of us at age 22 decide to pursue a PhD as an end in itself without a clear sense of where it will lead (beyond a very vague notion of what constitutes academia), by the time we are looking at a postdoc we need to be more focused and strategic. A postdoc is never an end in itself, rather it is a means to preparing yourself to become a strong viable candidate for job in or at X.

    To this end I recommend that grad students & PhDs think clearly about what is the goal that lies on the other side of the postdoc. What is there goal:

    Continue in current line of research & apply to major research university
    Shift to a new area of focus & apply to major research university
    Shift to a new topic that can be taken to a non-R1 faculty position
    Facilitate a move into Biotech/Pharma, National Lab, etc.

    Don’t let inertia rule

  2. Anonymous says:

    exactly, what is the goal of being a postdoc when the system is stacked against you

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