Understanding the nature of the postdoctoral experience is key to managing expectations of both the mentor and trainee. This training is typically conducted in an apprenticeship mode where the postdoctoral appointee undertakes scholarship, research, service, and/or teaching activities that, taken together, provide a training experience for career advancement.
Potential Questions to ask Before Choosing a Mentor and Adviser
According to a study conducted by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences (“Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers”, National Academy Press, ©2000), the best time for a postdoc to evaluate a potential postdoctoral position is before signing on. It may be difficult to adjust the major conditions of an appointment once it is underway.
You may want to ask the following questions of a potential mentor/adviser:
- What are the adviser’s expectations of the postdoc?
- Will the adviser or the postdoc determine the research program?
- How many postdocs has this adviser had? Where did they go afterwards?
- What do current and past lab members think about their experiences?
- Will the adviser have time for mentoring? Should I seek out other mentors?
- How many others (graduate students, staff, postdocs) now work for this adviser?
- How many papers are being published? Where?
- What is the adviser’s policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas?
- Will I have practice in grant writing, teaching, mentoring? Oral presentations? Review of manuscripts?
- Can I expect to take part of the project away with me after the postdoc?
- How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does the renewal of my appointment depend upon?
- Will the adviser have adequate research funds to support the proposed research?
Finding a Lab and Mentor
The first step in finding a postdoctoral position at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) is to identify a lab that matches your research interests and fits your personal goals. Start by exploring the researcher profiles on our VIVO website. The Postdoc Office also strongly suggests talking to your current Ph.D. program mentors, who may have connections with researchers at WCM, for recommendations.
Some, but certainly not all, open postdoc positions at WCM are posted on our website. To search for postdoc openings, visit the “Postdoctoral Positions” page.
Once you have determined a lab you want to work in at WCM, we suggest that you send a letter of interest and your CV directly to the PI. Follow up with an email if you do not hear back from the PI within a week or two. Note that postdocs are not hired through a central office at WCM, but rather by individual labs and faculty members.
Roles and Responsibilities of the Postdoc and the Adviser
The relationship between the adviser and the postdoc is of prime importance if the postdoctoral experience is to be beneficial to both parties. A number of organizations, recognizing the importance of this relationship, have prepared reports and weighed-in on the respective roles of the adviser and the postdoc:
The Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences has prepared a report that addresses five primary populations, all of whom participate in the postdoctoral experience: the postdoctoral officers themselves, their advisers, their host institutions, the agencies and organizations that support them and professional disciplinary societies. It is also intended for senior-level graduate students who may be contemplating postdoctoral work. The report states that the postdoc “has a quid pro quo relationship with the research community.” In order to enhance this relationship the Academy also provides a “Roles and Responsibilities” document for both postdocs and their advisers. The full report can be downloaded for free here: