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Expectations for a Postdoc Mentor

Started by polly_mer, May 20, 2019, 05:42:27 AM

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I've been spending a lot of time recently in discussions with folks who find themselves in the position of having postdocs for the first time or are new postdocs themselves.  The differences in expectations can be pretty stark.

What are your expectations as a new postdoc or new mentor of postdocs?

Experienced mentors, what wisdom can you provide to either side?
Quote from: hmaria1609 on June 27, 2019, 07:07:43 PM
Do whatever you want--I'm just the background dancer in your show!


Can't  comment directly, the humanities don't have a very robust postdoc system, if any.

But friends on both sides of the position in the sciences have indeed found great pain as well as needed help to be possible.

So, bookmarking, I'll be interested to see how the poll and the comments run.

Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.


Quote from: mamselle on May 20, 2019, 09:05:37 AM
Can't  comment directly, the humanities don't have a very robust postdoc system, if any.

Mine does, increasingly! I'm in the last few months of mine. My main expectations are the letter, and someone who's able and willing to take a look at my work on occasion, and help me develop it/guide it in a productive direction, and who'll act as a bridge for my (academic) socialization into faculty life in the department. It's pretty hands-off, and I think that's right and proper for my discipline. (In Europe, they're more hands-on, because postdocs are supposed to work directly on the PI's grant project.) For a postdoc who hasn't yet had much experience of publishing in the field, I think the mentor should also help by sharing some of their own research and publication strategies.

I didn't see my mentor much, but that was because I didn't really need to reach out to him. He was always available if I needed him, but our mutual expectation was a much more hands-off relationship than the PhD supervisory relationship. The main thing I got from my postdoc was time to develop my publication record (I went from two when I graduated to nine now, two years later), and a chance to put together a much stronger and better-developed teaching portfolio. And those were my main goals for the postdoc, so I'm happy with it all, even if I didn't do much work on the main project I pitched, beyond research (it was a book, but we're not really a book field).

I know it's a genus.


The NIH has some nice individual training plan templates. I base my goals on this in collaboration with the post doc  I usually have productivity goals-- number of papers- and we list out what papers they will work on as primary and secondary author. They usually have something that they're working on that was part of their Ph.D. and that should be in the mix though the mentoring on those is outside the post doc. So, I make it clear that they should get those papers done as well as stuff with my lab. Usually the target is 2 papers as first (with my lab) and 2 as secondary (with my lab) in one year (in addition to what they were already working on). They also have lab duties-- it could be management, mentoring of undergrads and grad students, data collection. I expect them to work 20 hours on writing and 20 on the other stuff. They continue to have access to data on all the projects after they're done with the post doc.


When I was looking at which lab to join for a postdoc, I really wanted someone who would do more than just have me work on research. Research is important to finding a job in my field*, but it's only part of the equation. Grant writing, mentoring, teaching, and professional development are important aspects that help people develop into fully rounded professionals. I was lucky enough to get all of these experiences during my postdoc, including having a grant we wrote successfully funded, and  it helped place me in a position where I was lucky enough to get a TT faculty position as one opened at the perfect time that I fit perfectly for.

I'm in a STEM field.


I know I selected the "senior/established" person option, but I'd like to give a shout-out to early career and even pre-tenure mentors.  My postdoc mentor was WONDERFUL and was pre-tenure when I joined.

For "other" I'd include professional training such as grant writing.  My advisor said he'd support me for one year for sure, but I'd have to apply for fellowships (not necessarily get one) after that.  He also invited me to write a review article together, helped me write a professional development plan, a research statement, etc. to get me ready for the job market.  I really appreciate that he was already thinking about my 5 year plan and how to get me launched from day 1.