A postdoc, postdoctoral research assistant in a university on a contract has a supervisor or a boss. They may not be the PI on the grant which pays the salary as it may contain other universities as well.

In conversation and in email, what is the best term to use for your postdoc boss? Something doesn't seem correct with the term boss or manager, or even supervisor.


4 Answers 4


I've heard "supervisor", "advisor" and "mentor". They can be clarified as "postdoc advisor", etc, to avoid confusion with a Ph.D. advisor.

There's also the simpler "I work with Professor Smith."

  • 1
    I don't like to use 'supervisor' or 'advisor', because people already quite often think I'm still a PhD student, and I don't want to contribute more to that impression. In conversation, adding the word 'postdoc' sounds funny to me. 'Mentor' is a good suggestion though. It wouldn't always work, but as it happens, in my case my 'boss' is also my mentor (two different roles), so I might start using that.
    – Tara B
    Commented May 26, 2013 at 8:00
  • What about "line manager"? On some office papers they refer to my postdoc's mentor as my line manager. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 17:16
  • 1
    @AmirHoseinSadeghimanesh: That's a much more "business" term. You might see it on internal paperwork from your Human Resources office, where they need to impose a similar management structure on all the university's employees (office staff, plumbers, etc), but I've never seen it when you're talking about an academic relationship. If you wrote me something about your "line manager" I'd probably guess that you worked for a company instead of in academia. Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 19:30
  • @NateEldredge +1 Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 15:03

One "clean" way is to use host.

I'm a Postdoc at U of U., hosted by Prof. P.

sometimes it might indicate that that's the guy who pays your money, but not necessarily serving as your mentor.


I would lean toward "advisor," as that encapsulates the role best in normal circumstances. You should be an independent researcher as a postdoc, so you shouldn't need much more than advice from your PI.

I personally reserve the term mentor for someone who advises you about (and throughout) your career, not just for a particular project.

  • What?? Are you suggesting that postdoc advisors don't give career advice in your field? Yeesh.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 24, 2013 at 21:52
  • How much mentoring are you going to get when you're part of a research group with over 100 members?
    – aeismail
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 4:23
  • Considerably more than when you're working alone, since after all you have over 99 potential mentors. Right?
    – JeffE
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 13:42
  • From the group as a whole, possibly. From the nominal advisor, probably not—and that's what the question is asking about.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 15:20
  • But then doesn't the same argument apply to PhD "advisors"?
    – JeffE
    Commented May 25, 2013 at 16:22

I think it is really up to you (both you and to some extent the "boss"). The term "boss" to me is too managerial. I don't like the sound of "my PI", even if the boss is a PI, they are not really your PI. I prefer advisor over supervisor, I think it sounds more supporting.

That said, since you think it is an issue, just refer to the boss as Dr. Smith and then say you are a post doc for Dr. Smith.

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