Enhancing the post doc experience

Questions to Ask in Choosing an Adviser 
The best time for a postdoc to evaluate a potential postdoctoral position is before signing on. It is difficult to adjust the major conditions of an appointment once it is underway. Experienced postdocs and advisers suggest the following questions be asked of (and about) a prospective adviser: 
 
  1. What are the adviser’s expectations of the postdoc? 
  2. Will the adviser or the postdoc determine the research program? 
  3. How many postdocs has this adviser had? Where did they go afterward? 
  4. What do current and past lab members think about their experience? 
  5. Will the adviser have time for mentoring? Or should I seek out other mentors? 
  6. How many others (grad students, staff, postdocs) now work for this adviser? 
  7. How many papers are being published? Where? 
  8. What is the adviser’s policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas? 
  9. Will I have practice in grant writing? Teaching/mentoring? Oral presentations? Review of manuscripts? 
  10. Can I expect to take part of the project away after the postdoc? 
  11. How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does renewal depend? 
  12. Can I count on help in finding a position? 
  13. Will the adviser have adequate research funds to support the proposed research?

Appointment Letters 
By tradition, postdocs have often been invited to work in a researcher’s lab with no more formality than a phone call or a handshake. Institutions are now beginning the good practice of issuing a formal letter of appointment that contains important contractual elements. The following model is offered to faculty by the postdoctoral office of one university: 
 
  • Initial Letter of Appointment Outline 
  • Offer of postdoctoral position, with brief explanation of research project. 
  • Effective date of appointment, amount of stipend, source (and expiration date) of funding, and payroll information. 
  • Length of appointment (e.g., annual, with reappointment contingent on satisfactory performance). 
  • Leave policy. 
  • Copy of institutional policies attached with letter. 
  • Health insurance information and requirements and a description of the other benefits provided and (equally important for the postdoc to know) not provided. 
  • Intellectual property policy and agreement (enclosed for signature). 
  • Work eligibility requirements for US citizens and foreign nationals. 
  • Request for proof of doctoral degree (diploma or registrar statement). 
  • Request for candidate’s signature and return of letter by given date.