I need a point of view of users here regarding doing postdoc in small lab or big lab. I am currently looking for a postdoc position. During my PhD years, I worked in a small lab with inexperienced supervisor as principal investigator. She was a very nice supervisor who is concerned a lot regarding my PhD study. However, she has a weakness of not publishing a lot papers into journal and she is also not a risk taker when it comes to researching high impact research that will result in novel and interesting findings. As a result, I did not manage to publish a lot during PhD study but somehow I did manage to have a smooth PhD study without too many problems because my previous supervisor helped a lot.

Now, I am researching/ looking for a lab to do postdoc study. While I already received an offer from my previous PhD supervisor to do postdoc with her, I am contemplating to accept that offer due to the fact I mentioned before that her lab is small and she doesn't focus much on publication. I want to keep my options open to the big lab that might have more experts in my field and more publication opportunity. On the other hand, my previous supervisor is a very nice supervisor who is a great leader and boss. And the grass is not always greener at the other side so who knows I might not like new lab.

So the question is, big lab or small lab is better for postdoc research?

  • 4
    I suppose the answer to this question is at best opinion based. Also, the size of the lab does not give you a generalizable indication of the quality of work, supervision, and publication there (in my opinion).
    – skymningen
    Nov 7, 2017 at 12:32
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    I think the real question here is not big vs. small, but publication-focused vs. not-publication-focused lab. If your goal is to find a permanent job in Academia, my answer to that question would be: run, Forrest, run! Nov 7, 2017 at 12:39
  • 1
    I'd say: if you did your PhD in small lab -> go to big lab. Just the learning experience will be worth it. Also changing is always good (who knows, perhaps the next supervisors is even nicer!). You can always come back later. Nov 7, 2017 at 16:11
  • 1
    Another reason to change (though not necessarily to a big lab) would be that some grant committees don't like to see when postdocs stay with their PhD supervisors - it can be taken as a sign that you are not (yet) grown into being an independent researcher.
    – Mark
    Nov 7, 2017 at 18:57
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    Do not do your postdoc in the same lab where you did your PhD. Your goal as a postdoc should be to branch out and stake out a different research profile from your advisor.
    – aeismail
    Nov 7, 2017 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


So the question is, big lab or small lab is better for postdoc research?

There is not inherently an answer to this question, but rather plusses and minuses. For example:

Big Labs:

  • Lots of people around mean it's likely easier not to feel isolated
  • May have more secure funding
  • Presumably put out more papers
  • Professors are more likely to be dealing with keeping that lab funded, so if you were hoping to learn directly from them, this might not be as easy
  • It's also easy to get lost in a big group and be incorporated into "Professor So-and-So's Group" without establishing an identity

Small Labs:

  • A larger % of the lab's productivity rests on each person, so there may be more pressure
  • Might be dependent on a single grant
  • Likely more personal attention from the PI
  • More likely to end up as the first author on most of your papers

My suggestion, having been part of labs of all sizes at various stages of my career is to get experience with both, so that you can find what style works best for you and try to pick and choose what you liked from both.


Generally it is good to diversify. But most importantly the post-doc is a time to focus on expanding your publication list. Which facility and advisor are better situated to help you with that goal is a more important consideration than the size of the lab. In a large lab you might get lost in the crowd and not get the support you need. So the size isn't necessarily the determining characteristic.

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