Guidelines For Mentoring Postdoctoral
Postdoctoral training period is an important event in the
differentiation of one’s scientific career. Postdoctoral fellows
usually enter into a specialized area of research that will, in the
majority of cases, form the foundation for their life’s work. It is
a critical period for refining experimental skills acquired in the
doctoral program, applying these skills and knowledge to a new area
of research, and learning new skills essential for obtaining
independent funding and publication of experimental findings. The
duration of the Postdoctoral training period is variable, usually
depending greatly on the fellow’s success in the initial years of
their Postdoctoral training. Most individuals complete this
training in a three year period. In this regard, it should be
incumbent on new Postdoctoral Fellows to begin with a clear
strategy for obtaining future goals, such as academic or industrial
appointments, and utilize all resources, human and physical, at
their disposal to achieve these goals in a minimum span of time. The
financial incentives for achieving these goals in three years is
obvious, but a rigorous Postdoctoral training effort could have
life-long benefits in confidence and productivity. While the
Postdoctoral training period, like the doctoral program, is an
apprenticeship in a specialized area of research, the role of the
mentor in training Postdoctoral Fellows is more concerned with
refining skills learned in the doctoral program and teaching new
skills required for career development, such as grant writing and
recognition in the scientific community to enhance professional
The Postdoctoral training period should be a rewarding endeavor
for both mentors and trainees. The following guidelines were
developed to provide specific criteria for participants to optimize
their interactions during the training period.
Obligations and Goals of the Mentor
Provide rigorous training in the scientific method, including
laboratory supervision and guidance in comprehension of primary
literature and preparation of manuscripts.
Provide a safe and supportive research environment with
appropriate equipment, materials and supplies necessary for the
Seek funding for stipends and salaries, through research grants
obtained by the principal investigator, participation in training
grants, and guidance in the preparation of applications for
Serve as a role model for responsible conduct and professionalism
in research. Our policy aligns closely with the recent FASEB
“Research Integrity is a Mentoring Issue.”
Meet regularly with the trainee to review progress. These
meetings may be in the form of laboratory group meetings, one-on-one
sessions or (more often) a combination of both.
Serve as advisor on matters of career development and facilitate
opportunities for trainees to obtain special training and
participate in national scientific meetings.
Encourage interactions within the local research community,
including expert advice, collaborations, and participation in
journal clubs and other research forums.
Be specific about vacation policies, time commitments, laboratory
policies and safety issues. If appropriate to the research project,
ensure trainees receive specialized training in human and animal
protocols, recombinant DNA research and biohazards.
Expectations of Postdoctoral Fellows
Complete radiation safety training, OSHA and other training as
appropriate. Take responsibility for the safe operation of
laboratory equipment and be mindful of laboratory conditions for the
comfort and safety of others.
Maintain an up-to-date laboratory notebook according the general
guidelines of the laboratory. Be prepared to discuss the goals and
progress of your work in lab meetings and in small group meetings.
Take the initiative in experimental design, making good use of your
own expertise and that of others in the lab group and local
community. Develop collaborations with other scientists and begin
“networking” with other trainees.
Stay abreast of the current literature in your field. Attend
journal clubs and seminars on a regular basis. Choose the most
appropriate journal club(s) based upon the advice of your mentor and
your own interests. Postdoctoral associates should make at least one
oral presentation per semester in lab meetings, journal clubs or
regional/national meetings. Application for travel awards to
national meetings, where appropriate, is encouraged. If your career
goals also include teaching, senior postdocs may also wish to speak
to your mentor about opportunities to give a lecture to graduate or
medical students. Interested senior postdoctoral fellows are
encouraged to attend the tutor training workshop for the medical
curriculum and other learning opportunities on campus.
Many investigators describe their postdoctoral work as the most
rewarding time in their research career, as there are few demands
outside of the laboratory with the exception of training workshops.
This is an excellent time to begin to develop your own skills as a
laboratory manager and mentor. Junior postdoctoral associates should
take the opportunity to assume leadership roles with the laboratory,
including informal mentoring of graduate students in the group.
Senior postdoctoral associates may expect to work closely with
junior staff and serve as a more formal mentor for graduate
- Seek opportunities for funding your research, through fellowship
applications, young investigator awards and other appropriate
venues. Work closely with your mentor on applications and use this
as an opportunity to learn grantsmanship.
- Write manuscripts. Make a goal of at least one first author
manuscript per year. In addition, seek opportunities to contribute
as a co-author on additional projects. This is the real key to your
- Discuss your career plans, be it in academics or industry, with
your mentor. Outline plans to make a successful transition to meet
your goal. A helpful guide is available at the
Disagreements can sometimes occur between a mentor and
postdoctoral fellow when discussing career goals and scientific
these differences are worked out between the mentor and postdoctoral
fellow with additional discussions and clarifications to clear up
Rarely a mediator is called in, but should one be needed, the
has adopted a Professional Mediation
Procedure that formalizes discussions between the mentor and
fellow for dispute resolution.