Mentoring Postdoctoral Students

Postdoctoral study has become the norm in some fields, such as the life sciences and chemical sciences; for other fields, such as engineering, it is rare. Some students find that a postdoctoral study in a national or industrial laboratory broadens their outlook and job opportunities and allows them to learn a new research culture. Others find themselves in a "holding pattern"-going from postdoctoral position to postdoctoral position without finding a long-term research position-as well as working for low pay and no benefits for many years. Thus, the decision to undertake postdoctoral work should not be made lightly and should be made only after examination of one's career goals and the career opportunities in that field.

Finding a position. Encourage students who want a postdoctoral position to determine the three or four research groups that seem most appropriate to their interests and abilities. Use your own network of contacts and make personal calls to introduce the student. Then suggest that the student call each supervisor, with relevant questions: How many postdoctoral fellows do you have now? What do they do? Where do they go afterward? What support is available? Recommend a face-to-face meeting with the supervisor, as well as with former postdoctoral students of the program and faculty members doing similar work.

The need for postdoctoral mentoring. It can be tempting to suppose that postdoctoral students require little or no mentoring because they have more experience than undergraduate or graduate students. That might not be true for postdoctoral students, any more than it is for junior faculty.

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