The Academic Path
Choosing A Supervisor
In general, each postdoc experience will be different and contingent upon the specific laboratory in which you choose to work. Choosing a research supervisor is a very critical task and is just as important, if not more so, than the science of the lab. When choosing a research supervisor, visit the lab and talk to the current trainees. Review the supervisor's curriculum vitae, especially publications and grants. Personalities are important, so learn about your potential supervisor's personality and make sure it will mesh with yours. The working relationship you have with your supervisor is very important.
• How does the supervisor run the laboratory?
• How much contact time do you want with your supervisor as you train?
• How often are formal meetings held with supervisors?
• What peer support is there?
• Is there sufficient space and equipment?
• Are journal clubs part of the laboratory activity?
• Are there visiting scientists presenting seminars and interacting with students?
• How does your supervisor regard postdocs?
• What is the track record of the potential supervisor?
• How long do postdocs generally stay in the lab?
• Where are previous postdocs currently employed and what are their positions?
• Does the supervisor expect postdocs to apply for funding?
• Will you be required to teach or restricted from teaching?
• Does the supervisor provide feedback in a timely manner?
• Do postdocs publish first-authored high quality work?
It is indeed important to have a frank open discussion with a potential supervisor so that your questions are answered and you have the information you need to make a choice. Early in your training, it is important that you establish and discuss your Individual Development Plan with your supervisor (for more information, see concerns that come up. Since the training is arduous, a nurturing, stimulating and supportive environment is essential. Role models and mentors are required to advise and guide, not only during your training but also when you reach the junior faculty (or equivalent) level. Despite the strenuous training commitment, the rewards are indeed wonderful. You do interesting and important work. You interact with exceptional individuals and you are at the forefront of medicine and science as you shape the foundations and directions of health care.
How long should a postdoctoral position last for? Many institutions now consider a three to four year postdoc as optimum. It allows you to carry out high quality innovative research which is published or accepted for publication before you leave the institution. The quality of your publications is an important currency that will help you to get an interview for a faculty position.