This question is a bit weird to ask because generally speaking, a normal answer will be "the same way you used to work as a PhD student" but I am not sure if I picked a "bad" habit from my previous experience.


As a first task as a postdoc, I have received a short abstract with an expected research outcome (a detailed technical report) and some sub steps to achieve the research outcome. These sub-steps are important tasks on their own and will need some research and time, I understand that. So, here is what I did, I read articles in the first week and I prepared a small draft (one page) highlighting key ideas that will help me achieve the first sub-task. The issue, is that I needed some further clarification about the abstract as this will help me decide which direction I should follow next, but at the same time, I wanted to send something to the PI in the first week and not "disappear" after receiving the research abstract, but I haven't received a response in 3 days and I don't know if I created a good impression.

Now I am wondering, how does a postdoc work in the first place (research methodology)? am I expected to have big results every-time I reach out to the PI? When I was a phd student, I used to send weekly (sometimes 2 weeks) updates to my supervisors. These updates were either progress status or problems I was stuck at! Is this approach acceptable for a postdoc?

  • 1
    Interesting question...I suggested a more precise version of the title, the original was very broad...feel free to revise as needed
    – cag51
    Apr 28, 2021 at 21:35
  • No, this title is perfect, I spend some time thinking of a representative title and I didn't find a good one.. thank you!
    – U. User
    Apr 28, 2021 at 21:38
  • Three days for a reply is very (very) short. A nanosecond in academic time.
    – Buffy
    Apr 28, 2021 at 22:52

1 Answer 1


I'd wager that both 1) the variance in expectations among PIs and 2) the variance in communication styles among graduate students or post docs far exceed the average distinctions between grad students and post docs.

Many labs will have regular group meetings, perhaps weekly. One would expect both grad students and post docs to attend and give regular updates at these meetings. This was my own experience. In some fields, both grad students and post docs may need more "every day" training in the beginning to get up to speed, which might mean more frequent check-ins during that time.

Other labs, and in fields where work is more independent, grad students may mainly check in when they have either produced something worth sharing or are stuck. Perhaps in this context, post docs will check in less often if they have gotten better at solving their own issues. Alternatively, professors may be more proactive in checking in with their graduate students to make sure they aren't wandering off into the woods.

I'd recommend anyone starting in a new position (graduate student, post doc, or employee of any sort; within or outside of academia) have an early conversation with their supervisor to compare expectations and preferences about communication, including frequency (ideally, this would occur in some form before even taking a position, but it's good to revisit once starting, too). This sort of direct conversation is going to be a lot more productive than trying to divinate expectations from the latency or content of email responses, norms experienced by others in other positions, or ones own past experiences. You can start the conversation with how you've interacted with supervisors in the past, if you'd like, and share how you thought that worked well or didn't work for you. Your supervisor may have other ideas. I'd suggest finding a working compromise between the two.

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    As a post-doc some eons ago, I considered it important to model the expected behavior to the students. That meant giving updates like they did (but hopefully better!). I got lots of good comments on my work, and in turn gave good comments to the students.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 28, 2021 at 23:16
  • @JonCuster I'd definitely agree with that approach, and I think most PIs would appreciate it as well.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 28, 2021 at 23:23
  • @JonCluster That only works if your position allows you any time to give updates beyond "I did a bunch of teaching prep and managed to look at half the draft of student's thesis. Apr 29, 2021 at 8:59

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