Postdoc Training: Great Expectations

Sept. 19, 2019

We all walk into situations with our own expectations. Sometimes these expectations are explicitly discussed, but other times expectations are implicit and thought to be understood. As a postdoc joining a new research group, it’s particularly important to identify and align expectations for your position. Postdocs have an expedited timeline to success and higher expectations for their position compared to graduate students. Aligning your expectations to your mentor makes the transition into your postdoc easier and removes uncertainty during a stressful time.

Reflect on Your Expectations

First, understand your own expectations for your career and mentor. Identify what is most important to you now and how those priorities might change over time. To help you get started, ask yourself:
  • What are your expectations and aspirations as a postdoc?
    • What support do I need to pursue my career goals?
    • What does productivity mean to me?
    • Is a sense of community important to me?
  • What are your expectations of your mentor?
    • How do I like to receive feedback?
    • What do I want to learn from my mentor? 
    • Do I perform better with regular guidance and feedback, or independence?

Align Your Expectations with Those of Your Mentor

Once you’ve identified your expectations, think about expectations your mentor has for you during your postdoc position. Reflect on:
  • What are your mentor’s expectations of you and the mentoring relationship?
    • What careers have other postdocs from your new research group pursued?
    • What are your mentor’s expectations related to productivity? What have past group members produced?
    • What is the social environment like in this group?
    • How does your mentor give and respond to feedback?
Once you’ve figured out your mentor’s expectations, reflect on how these align with your expectations and how they might differ.

Be Proactive in Identifying and Aligning Expectations

  • Start now – It’s never too late to ask yourself (and your mentor) these questions.
  • Establish clear lines of communication - Find out what communication method and frequency your mentor is most comfortable with.  
  • Prepare for meetings and conversations ahead of time – Role play your conversation with your mentor ahead of time with a colleague. 
  • Accept feedback constructively and provide feedback when needs aren’t being met – A mentoring relationship goes both ways so give feedback when necessary.
Aligning expectations is just one of the many pieces of a valuable mentoring relationship

Learn More 

Find more information about transitioning into a new postdoc, utilizing career planning resources, working in an intercultural environment, and developing resilience through a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the Postdoc Academy, launching in January. Follow us @PostdocAcademy on social media.

For more self-reflection questions to help you identify your expectations and your mentor’s expectations, read the Proactive Postdoc Mentoring chapter from The Postdoc Landscape

The input and content of this article were co-created by the Postdoc Academy team at Boston University, Northwestern University, Michigan State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This work was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R25GM121257. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Author: ASM Careers

ASM Careers
How can you make the challenges of a microbiology career just a bit less stressful? One way: Reach out to colleagues for advice, support and inspiration. ASM Careers helps you do just that - virtually!