I'm a postdoc at a US university and I have a truly wonderful research advisor. Sometimes, during our regular meetings, I find out that things are particularly tough for my advisor this week. The regular pains of academia (stress, hard work, external pressures) as well as any weeks when he needs to spend nearly 100% of his time on just teaching and departmental service, plus any issues in personal life, can take a toll on my advisor from time to time. I always notice that when I see that he's not as excited/happy/motivated during our meetings. He nevertheless is always there to talk with me and to help me research-wise as much as he can (he almost never cancels our weekly meetings for those reasons).
Because of how much I value him as my academic mentor, I'm wondering if there is anything that I could be doing (or anything that I should not be doing) as his postdoc during these tougher weeks to help him (even if it's simply helping him have a better day afterwards) and help our group. What's most sad for me in those tough weeks is that I know how wonderfully we progress in research together when we both approach science with a clear mind and excitement. So it's really sad for me when he's in the distracted mode, because I think our whole group loses out on that great experience.
Some of the things I've been trying so far, although I don't know if they really help:
- Before we jump to talking about research, I briefly ask him how he's been doing. Sometimes he tells me the reason why he's been tired. Sometimes we spend 10-15 minutes just venting about things.
- I try to stay generally positive and smile during our meetings.
- When I describe the research I've been working on, I'm trying to sound enthusiastic, to help us stay motivated about our research.
- When I see him particularly tired, I try to discuss only the essentials and end the meeting quickly.
- I'm trying to catch up with his Ph.D. students to find out if they have problems with anything. If they do, I spend time helping them so that my advisor doesn't have to.
Is this enough? Should I be offering to help in some other ways? I'm looking for some perspective and guidance on what else/more I could be doing. I will especially value answers from those who are advisors/PIs on what kind of support would you personally like from your postdoc in a similar situation?
Note: My question is different from this question because I don't necessarily need my advisor's weekly input to keep going in my research work. By now (at the postdoc stage) I know how to propel my progress even without external help. So I don't ask: how do I get research guidance? but rather: how do I support my advisor and his research group?