PART 5: Nuanced Considerations for Choosing a Postdoc Opportunity
If you have yet to read the previous posts in this series, we encourage you to start at the beginning!
Lab and Work Environment Fit
While the primary focus of your conversations with faculty will be your research alignment, you will want to consider how you fit in the lab and what kind of needs you have for your research environment. As you continue to communicate with faculty and progress through the interview process, you should be developing a shared interest in working together and potential research directions that complement each other’s prior work. You should also be gauging the mentoring approach, training environment, and work in the lab, which will dictate your work situation for the coming years. It is helpful to ask questions about the lab environment and mentor’s style and expectations to determine if this particular group is the right fit for you. Joanne Kamens discusses tactful ways to approach choosing a lab in her article, “Is this the right place for me? 8 tactics for choosing a lab.”
The key to successfully gauging fit is taking the time to be introspective to understand the lab environment work style and the type of mentorship that best supports you, as well as any personal “red flags” that could be a barrier to your thriving as a productive researcher. Through your interviews, gather information on various labs to understand how they differ from the ones you have worked in previously. Some key factors include the lab environment and culture including the size of the lab, the expectations in the lab, and how hands-on the faculty mentor is. All of these factors will impact how well the lab will be able to support your training needs. Remember that you have a say in the process of being matched with a lab, and this is your opportunity to select a faculty mentor, and university, that best benefits you during an intense time of training. As much as possible, we encourage you to be clear about what postdoc path (if any) is the best springboard for you to move confidently toward your career goals.
In addition to your professional priorities, what personal priorities should you also be taking into account in your decision process? Do you have geographical constraints, like partner career opportunities or family who require you to be nearby? What preferences do you have about where you want to live – and how you want to live – and how does that impact your willingness to be in a certain location? These considerations might spur interesting questions you cannot answer yourself, so consider asking other postdocs in the lab. Linked here are some possible questions to ask in an interview (scroll down to the section titled “Preparing for the Interview”).
Any decision you make will require some sacrifices, so spend time reflecting on what temporary sacrifices are you willing to make in service of the benefits you hope to garner from postdoctoral training, and what are your non-negotiables? Remember, the postdoc is TEMPORARY, so that should also be weighed in thinking about how long (or short, in the grand scheme) you will be in your postdoc and making those sacrifices.
You may still have questions or concerns while navigating the postdoc interview process. At Stanford, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs is happy to help support your decision making as you consider a postdoc; you can email us at email@example.com. We hope you look to Stanford as an option for your postdoctoral training. One way you can engage with Stanford while still considering your options include taking part in the PRISM recruitment initiative which provides resources to travel to Stanford campus to interview with faculty mentors and meet current postdocs. Additionally, if you decide to do a postdoc at Stanford in the biosciences, consider the Propel Postdoctoral Scholars Program, which provides two years of funding for School of Medicine postdocs from historically underrepresented communities interested in a faculty career. Or explore other Stanford fellowships that support a variety of research areas.
Best of luck in your search for a postdoctoral position!