The Academic Path
When choosing your postdoc, there are many things to consider:
What are your research interests? If you are considering a career in academics as an independent lab investigator, your research career will likely build upon your postdoc experience. So, choosing a postdoctoral lab that investigates the same gene, signaling pathway, disease, or specialized technique from your graduate work can be a very efficient way to move forward, because it allows you to develop a reputation and publication record in your field. However, if you are ready for a change from your graduate work, this is also an excellent opportunity to shift your research focus and choose a postdoc laboratory that better fits your future research interests and career goals.
Another important question to ask yourself is whether you want to work in a small or large laboratory. As mentioned above, smaller laboratories are often run by more junior faculty, who often have more time to mentor, while the larger labs are more established and directed by senior faculty. Look at several labs to be able to select the best one for you. The fit must be right. Know what you want to get out of your postdoc experience and discuss these expectations with the head of the lab before starting a position. Speak to as many students and postdocs as possible so that you can obtain several opinions about the lab. You will find some trainees who are satisfied with everything and some who can see no good in the lab. You need to find a balanced view and to get this you need to ask probing questions and try to get specific answers, not general impressions and feelings.
In addition to the lab environment, it is also important to assess the quality of the institution. What is the quality of the institution as a whole? What is the quality of the medical school, graduate school, teaching hospitals, the research, clinical care and educational programs? Research the institution on the web and speak to as many trainees as possible. Try to get a sense for the environment, as well as the level of commitment and satisfaction of the Faculty. While no institution is perfect, contented faculty tend to be more inclined to creating a healthy and exciting environment for training and research.
The infrastructure is also an important factor to consider. What are the financial situation and the research infrastructure at the institution as a whole and in the department in which you plan to train? Is major equipment readily available? Are there adequate resources and/or core facilities to ensure a successful postdoc experience? Does your potential supervisor have the infrastructure he/she needs to carry out first class research for the duration of your training?