What do different people in the department expect from a postdoc? By different people I mean the advisor, graduate students and PhD students.

I know it mainly depends on the job description but there are few basic things that a postdoc must be expected to do. How aggressive (proactive) must one be? This question is important since a postdoc cannot just wait for the adviser to give him/her inputs. Rather the postdoc must take the project(s) as another PhD research of his own but be completely accountable to the adviser in terms of what he/she is doing and how is he/she doing that.

The above are my thoughts. My question is divided into the following sub-parts:

  • What would you as a professor expect from your postdoc?
  • What preparation one must do to rise to the expected level?
  • Is the preparation merely restricted to having sound academic record and experience?
  • 1
    This question is a possible duplicate of this academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2173/… Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 19:23
  • 1
    By now the answers here are so useful that I'd be against closing this question as a duplicate.
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 22:25
  • @DavideChicco.it the link your provided is essentially a list of questions. The final question is clearly a duplicate, but the answers focus on the other questions in the list. I therefore say not duplicate, but relevant.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 12:33

2 Answers 2


You'll very quickly learn that being an academic involves more than just writing research papers. Your time as a postdoc is when you can start learning about these other aspects, while building your own profile.

A postdoc needs to do the following:

  • Build a publication record. This will involve both what you are paid to do and your own line of research.
  • Get involved with supervising students. Help with the PhDs in the lab, and get involved in supervising masters students.
  • Get involved with obtaining funding. This can either be by helping your employer or (ideally) obtaining your own funding.
  • Build an international reputation.
  • Start collaborating with external parties.
  • Gain some teaching experience. This is absolutely crucial if you want a faculty position.
  • Learn how to manage projects and a lab. This includes overseeing the progress of projects, allocating your time (and others), presenting results at meetings and writing deliverables. If you are in a lab setting, you will need to learn how to fix/calibrate/maintain critical equipment and software so that you can start your own lab some day, and you will need to become proficient in teaching more junior members on how to use that equipment.
  • Start to devise a strategic research plan. While it is fun to do opportunistic research, solving a problem that comes along or investigating any idea that pops into your head, a better long term strategy is to formulate an interesting long term research plan and follow it, building result upon result.

Be as proactive as humanly possible, without being annoying. Talk to everyone in the department, especially people whose research interests are close to your. Go to conferences and sit down and work with interesting people (not necessarily the superstars).

  • To the manage projects I would add how to fix/calibrate/maintain critical equipment and software so that you can start your own lab some day.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 16:19
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    I am going to print this answer and hang it above my monitor for the next three years. Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 16:49
  • As for managing project, I feel it also include overseeing the progress of the projects and how different people (mostly students) are taking it further.
    – Stat-R
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 17:06
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    Speaking from personal experience, I would emphasize the importance of gaining teaching experience. During my PhD and postdoc years, I was not offered any opportunity to obtain teaching experience - nor was it even considered a possibility. This has made it extremely difficult for me now when applying for lectureship positions.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 20:21
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    I consider most of these activities necessary for senior PhD students, and some of them (like "Build a publication record") even for junior PhD students.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 21:31

Let me add one item that Dave Clarke omitted, which I think is actually the most important:

  • Separate your research reputation from your advisor's. Congratulations! You have enough of an independent research record to land a postdoctoral position. Unfortunately, that reputation is almost certainly deeply entangled with your PhD advisor's; deep down, many people in your research community still wonder if (or simply assume that) you've just been riding your advisor's coattails. Your primary job is to convince them otherwise. Do not work with your advisor, and do not work in the same subsubsubfield as your PhD thesis. Make a name for yourself as a truly independent researcher and scholar.

And a secondary corollary:

  • Do not just ride your supervisor's coattails.
  • 2
    Is /that/ why a post-doc cannot be at the same place as a PhD? I've been wondering about that.
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 22:24
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    "cannot" is strong (because it happens) but "probably shouldn't be" is true. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 0:11
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    +1 for Make a name for yourself as a truly independent researcher and scholar.
    – enthu
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 7:37
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    +1. The whole point of the "changing institutions" custom, at least as I understand it, is to act as a replicate measurement of your abilities as an academic using new variables. There will be a higher degree of confidence from the point of view of hiring committees if you can demonstrate that you consistently obtain papers and funding even with different advisors and lab environments.
    – March Ho
    Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 11:41

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