A good postdoc can kick-start your academic career so it is important that you choose a position that's right for you. To make the best choice, make sure that your leave your postdoc interviews with the answers to these 10 questions.
1. Will I able to take my postdoc project with me when I move on?
Many PIs have policies on research ownership and you should have a clear understanding of them before committing to a position.
2. What kinds of positions do your past postdocs now have?
This question is often considered the key metric for postdoc success. Look how many of the PI’s former postdocs have gone on to faculty appointments. A good postdoc supervisor is invested setting up their trainees for future academic success.
3. What is the institution’s postdoc policy?
Each institution has its own policies in regards to things like vacation, sick leave, and parental leave for its employees. Some even have strict term limits on postdoc positions or rules governing contract renewal. It is important to be aware of these policies before you commit to a postdoc position.
4. What do you expect of your postdocs?
This is a very broad question but a PI’s answer can be quite telling. On the surface they are telling you their expectations in terms of work hours, research output, number of publications, and fellowships. But you can also infer a lot from their answer about what kind of supervisor are and where their priorities lie. For example, do they care more about your productivity or the number of hours you work?
5. What sort of teaching or mentorship opportunities are available for postdocs?
As a postdoc, you are training to become a PI or professor. Teaching and mentoring are huge components of these jobs and, as such, a good postdoc position allows the trainee to gain more experience as a teacher and mentor. Postdocs in the humanities are often required to teach as part of their position, but it is equally important that STEM postdocs look for positions that offer similar opportunities.
6. What is your training plan for postdocs?
While a postdoc is no longer a student they are still a trainee. You want to be sure the PI acknowledges this and has a plan for your growth. Are there certain milestones they want you to hit? How often will they check in with you? Are there any professional development activities they want you to participate in?
7. How is the lab funded? How stable is the funding?
While a postdoc is a temporary position, it is still vital that the lab has secure funding for the duration of your postdoc. You will probably be encouraged to apply for external fellowships as well, however these often cannot be used to purchase research supplies or cover travel costs. Ask where the funds for these things will come from.
8. Does the lab/institution have funding for conferences or annual meetings?
Presenting at conferences is a crucial—and expensive—part of academic life. You will want to know if your conference expenses come out of your stipend/fellowship or whether the lab will reimburse you for these expenses. You should also ask if the university has supplementary travel funding that postdocs can apply for.
9. Can I talk to current students in the lab?
This question is more of a courtesy as most supervisors will expect that you will want to talk to their current or past student alone. However, if the PI say no that should be a huge red flag.
10. How does the lab handle authorship? How often do you publish?
A key goal of a postdoc in any field is to publish. As the position is usually for two to three years, there is some pressure to have multiple manuscripts in review, accepted, or published by the time you are looking for your next position.