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I am approaching the end of the tunnel and starting to look for my options beyond the PhD. The few contacts I have initiated have been positive so far and I will be visiting some labs in the coming months.

I am wondering which questions would be good ask during these visits. What insights would be valuable to acquire after these visits?

Regarding the talk with the group/lab leader, I am thinking of keeping the conversation/discussion around research interests for both parties, as well as his/her expectations from me and my responsibilities, if I start a post-doc there.

With respect to the group members, I intend on inquiring about the social environment, work ethics/common practices, different competencies that are in the group. Edit: a good advice I recently got from an ex-colleague who's doing post-doc in the US now, was to investigate whether or not there is a tradition of inter-group competition, i.e. will there be another post-doc working on the same project?

Any comments/suggestions based on personal experience?

  • Possible duplicate: "What to do when visiting a lab or a university for prospective application?" academia.stackexchange.com/questions/1819/… – DavideChicco.it Mar 13 '15 at 14:43
  • @DavideChicco.it even though the question titles are similar then content does not appear to be all that similar. – posdef Mar 13 '15 at 15:19
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Your list is a good start, but I would dig a little deeper into the "expectations" item than you may plan. "Postdoc" is maybe the least well-defined role in a research group, and what you are supposed to (and allowed to) do can vary greatly. You need to have a clear understanding in advance whether your vision of the position matches with the vision of your mentor. Concretely:

  • Ask whether you are supposed to write papers without your mentor. If yes, try to get a feel whether the mentor means it (very few will outright say No to such a request). Try to get a feel for what percentage of joint vs. individual work your mentor expects.
  • Ask whether you are supposed to write grant proposals. Ask whether you will be the PI of said proposals, or your mentor.
  • Ask whether you will be responsible for your own PhD students.
  • Ask whether it will be possible to work on topics that are of interest to you, but of less interest to your mentor.
  • Try to get a feel for the mode of collaboration your mentor expects. Everything from "you do your thing and ask me for input when you need it" to "I'll tell you which problem to work on, and you report back your results to me" is possible, and you will want to know which one it is.

In addition to that, also ask what your mentor has in mind in terms of your career plan. When you apply for assistant professorships in a year, will he fully support you, or will he want to keep you around for longer? If the latter, what can he realistically offer you?

5

Do not forget to ask about what training you can expect.

As a post-doctoral fellow, you are supposed to develop new skills and expierence. A supervisor might simply look for a cheap scientist. One person I know was hired to do pretty much the work she did during her PhD, except at a different location and with virtually no supervision at all. They needed a specialist and she fit, but as she is the expert she has little use of the other group members. The good thing is that she keeps writing papers. The bad thing is that she doesn't really acquire any new skills that she didn't already have at the end of her PhD.

  • If you are in the market for training, you definitely need to make this explicit during the interviews. Many profs. specifically hire postdocs because they expect them to need no, or very little, individual training vs. PhD students. – xLeitix Mar 12 '15 at 17:58
  • @xLeitix At the University of Toronto they call post-docs trainees... – gerrit Mar 12 '15 at 18:31
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    The US NSF requires a postdoc mentoring plan for every submitted grant that includes salary for a postdoc. This is supposed to include training on things about being a good researcher at the very least (grant writing, teaching, presentation, career advice, collaboration, etc.). They have samples (MS Word Doc). – Bill Barth Mar 12 '15 at 23:59

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