PART 3: Identifying Potential Mentors

If you have yet to read Part 1: So You Wanna Be a Postdoc? or Part 2: Exploring Research Focus, we encourage you to start at the beginning.

Once you have identified one or more potential research topics, browse literature related to your interest areas and note scientists doing compelling research that is complementary to your desired work. This is also a good time to be working with your current network (your formal and informal mentors, your committee, other faculty in your department, faculty collaborators, etc.,) as are all potential sources of information and introductions. Talk to them about your career plans and research interests, and ask them who they would recommend you talk to about postdoctoral research opportunities. After you have had a look at the faculty recommended through your network and identified those who look interesting to you, be sure to ask for introductions – even an informational interview with the faculty in your extended network may turn out to open the door to the right postdoc for you. 

If you are interested in a specific institution, department and research center websites and faculty profiles are a good place to start exploring the network of faculty who might be a good mentor for you. At Stanford, faculty profiles allow you to learn about faculty members, from their current research to their mentees and publication record, as well as colleagues doing related research who may also be potential mentors for you. In the video below, we created a tutorial on how to navigate through Stanford faculty profiles to find this and other useful information.


As you begin to identify potential mentors and labs, think about high level needs and desires for a potential lab. Have you flourished in small labs previously with plenty of individual time with your mentor? Have you struggled with the competitive culture of the current lab you’re in? These factors of a work environment (along with others) are important to consider as you conduct this search and will become vital as you begin to contact labs. While it is important to investigate all opportunities, if an institution is in a location you would never live, or a lab size is clearly not a good fit for you, it may not be worth your time to create a connection for the purpose of a potential postdoc. 

Here are links to additional resources that can inform the way you approach identifying a mentor and a lab: 

Regardless of what labs you decide to pursue for a potential postdoc, remember that all the faculty you research could be potential collaborators in the future. With this in mind, thorough research into faculty and labs is an opportunity that can pay dividends in the future. The next post will help you take this research on potential labs and identify ways to approach possible mentors.