Getting the Most out of Your Postdoc

The following suggestions should help you, as a prospective postdoc, identify what a particular position has to offer and to determine if the position is a good fit for you.

Before the Interview

  • Learn about the research group. Check the publication record of the previous group members to determine if the research setting is conducive to career development. How many papers were generated and what was the order of authorship? Where did they publish (i.e., high impact journals)? How well does the research match your career plan? See if you can find determine how long people stayed in the lab before moving on to a professional career

  • Gather information on the institution and the surrounding community. If the institution has a postdoctoral affairs office, it will be a great source of information about what to expect when you arrive. Only you will know if the city or region in which the institution is located is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Consider housing options, cost of living, childcare location, local tax rates, entertainment and recreation opportunities.

  • It's also helpful to know institutional postdoc policies about things like contract term limits, employee status, minimum salary, and whether fringe benefits, like health insurance, are usually offered to postdocs (you can then ask about details during your interview visit).

During the Interview

  • Clarify expectations. It's vital to know what your role and responsibilities will be. For example, how will you and the PI determine the specific research project you’ll be working on? How (and how often) is performance evaluated? How often will the two of you discuss research issues? Will the PI be able to help you build a publication record? Will you be able to take your research project (or part of it) with you when you start independent research work? Will you be expected to apply for your own funding at some point, and if so, when? Will there be opportunities for you to teach a course as part of your postdoc appointment?

  • Discuss the research project(s) you’ll be working on. How are research supplies acquired? Will you be working with or managing graduate students, undergraduate students, or technicians? How big is the lab? How does your research connect to other research programs in the group?

  • Explore professional and career development opportunities. You might want to talk about your Individual Development Plan (you can gauge the PI’s future support by his or her willingness to talk about both professional and career development opportunities. You’ll also want to find out if travel and participation to conferences in your research field will be supported. Ask what other professional development opportunities are available on campus.

  • Ask details about salary and benefits. You’ll want to know how long the current funding is expected to last and how your salary will be determined. Are you eligible for sick leave or vacation leave? What additional benefits (like insurance or retirement accounts), if any, are provided by the institution?.

  • If you’re an international student with a J-1 or H1-B visa, speak with an ISS Specialist in the International Student and Scholar Office (ISSO) to get information about transferring or extending your visa status.

When you’re offered a postdoctoral position, follow-up with your PI or other department staff to discuss in detail the practical issues connected with moving. Check in with the Postdoc Affairs Office at your new institution to build your professional network and learn about professional and career development opportunities on campus.

These suggestions to guide you in your search for a postdoc position were adapted from this publication of the National Postdoctoral Association.