Finding a Good Postdoc: Tips & Resources
WHAT IS A POSTDOCTORAL ASSIGNMENT (POSTDOC):
- An opportunity to develop additional skills and experience while under the supervision of an experienced researcher
- It doesn’t need to be in the same field as PhD, but will be longer if requires becoming proficient in new field
PREPARING FOR A POSTDOC WHILE STILL IN GRADUATE SCHOOL:
- Present your work through departmental seminars and professional association meetings
- Supervise research of undergraduate students and technicians
- Participate in drafting research grant proposals
- Join professional associations and apply for honor societies in your field
SEARCHING FOR A POSTDOC:
- Network! Go to scientific meetings, talk with PIs whose research you like, make contacts
- Present at and attend conferences and meetings, read professional association websites and newsletters
- Ask advisors and mentors for ideas, some may be willing to advocate for you
- Email advisors or PIs early to express interest in postions
SELECTING A POSTDOC THAT EXCITES YOU:
Choice of a Postdoc Mentor: Consider special skills, rank, reputation, previous trainees, and funding status
- Established New Principal Investigator (PI): Established PI has rank and influence, while new PI is likely to spend a lot of time in lab and can give more direct training
- Training Record: Are past trainees in high-level positions? Are current trainees getting quality training?
- Funding: Does PI have funding to pay postdoc for 3-5 years? Does PI have good extramural funding record?
- Management Style: Does the PI give postdocs freedom to work independently? What kind of schedule are postdocs expected to follow? Is the lab collaborative or competitive? Does PI supply up-to-date equipment?
Salary and Cost of Living
- Many Postdocs in academia have roughly same salary nationwide due to federal funding guidelines
- Postdocs in industry generally pay more, but may not be best choice for those pursuing academic careers because of potential limits on publishing and applying for funding
Select a Laboratory that Suits Your Work and Lifestyle
- If at all possible, visit the lab before making a decision; consider the reputation of the institution
- Talk to other graduate students and postdocs in lab to determine work style
- Think about how you like to work—as part of a team, individually, with what level of supervision?
- Does lab location and surrounding environment satisfy your non-work interests?
- Do people in lab work 9am – 5pm, only when experiments need to be done, or all of the time?
- Do you prefer a lab with a lot of money and space or are tight spaces and budgets okay?
- Do you want a lab that acts like a “family” and hangs out all the time or sticks to business?
- How much attention do you want from mentor? More people means less time with mentor
Select a Project with Outcomes that Match Your Career Goals
- Determine why you want to do a postdoc and what you want to do/where you want to be after completion
- Avoid strictly continuing work you did in graduate school; a postdoc is an opportunity to diversify your expertise
- Think carefully before extending your graduate work into a postdoc in same It is unlikely to maximize your gain of broader experience, but that can be offset by rapid and important publications
- Does lab you are entering have a track record producing high-quality publications?
- Understand the expectations around publication records in your field, and set goals for yourself
- Have an understanding with your mentor on your likelihood of first authorship before you start projects
- Find out about source and duration of funding before accepting position
- Good mentors will understand that your horizon is independence—your own future lab, group leader,
- Strive to get your own money—plan ahead for this, as most funds come from joint application with mentor
MAXIMIZING YOUR POSTDOC EXPERIENCE:
Plan for Your Future
- Have at least two projects underway. Include one that is guaranteed to generate good (if not exciting) results
- Network and meet other postdocs on campus, serve on campus committees; attend and present at seminars, regional, and national scientific meetings
LIST OF RESOURCES:
MIT Postdoc Resources
Finding and Securing Postdoctoral Positions
General Postdoc Resources and Opportunities
- National Postdoctoral Association
- Science Careers
- Survival Guide for International Postdoc Students in the US
- Postdoctoral Training in the NIH Intramural Research Program
- Postdoc Jobs
Maximizing the Postdoctoral Experience
- Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows
- Developing your Core Competencies as a Postdoc
- AAMC Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors
- Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty
- The Postdoctoral Experience Revisited
(awardee institutions, government agencies: NIH, NSF, NASA, EPA, USDA; & private organizations)