Thanks to all who sent email or made comments about postdoc mentoring. Here are some ideas for things to mention and discuss in a postdoc mentoring statement and plan:
- PIs will discuss with postdocs the goals and timelines for conference abstracts, papers, proposals, and things like that. These goals can be somewhat flexible and can be revisited as necessary, but should give the postdoc a clear idea of what they need to aim for.
- The statement can describe existing or planned research group meetings and/or regular individual meetings between the supervisor and postdoc.
- It should be mentioned if postdocs will be involved in project planning and new grant proposals.
- Postdocs can be encouraged to meet with visiting speakers and other visitors (describe the relevant visitor/seminar series).
- Postdocs who are interested should be given mentoring opportunities (e.g., undergrad research students, interns).
- Postdocs who are interested should be given the chance to organize or help organize graduate seminars and perhaps teach (as a visitor/substitute) a few undergraduate classes.
- Postdocs should definitely participate in conferences (with travel funded by the grant) – if possible, they should attend a variety of conferences, ranging from the giant ones to the small focused ones.
- Postdoc mentoring statements can list the various other faculty and researchers whom the postdoc will encounter, thereby showing that the postdoc will have a community of researchers with whom to interact.
- If a university has such things, postdocs can participate in workshops or courses designed to prepare them for academic and other jobs.
- Postdocs can be encouraged to participate in national workshops focused on academic or other careers.
- Postdocs should be given information about various resources related to careers; e.g., for academic careers, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Once a proposal is funded, the postdoc can participate in creating a more individualized plan for their mentoring.
- Postdocs who are entirely unproductive and publish nothing despite being given ample funding, opportunities, and time should pay back all the money they have taken from a PI's grant. Actually, I just made that up to see if anyone was still reading.
I don't think any of that would result in a dramatic change in how I do things, but it's helpful to see it written out and to contemplate the possibilities.
I'm not sure how NSF will evaluate the plans. My experience with the Broader Impacts component of proposals has been that reviews are extremely inconsistent. It is also likely that mentoring statements will be taken more seriously by some programs than by others.
All I know is that we've got to write these things, we PIs should do what we can to provide an excellent career-launching experience for our postdocs, and that postdocs should in turn take full advantage of the research opportunity with which they've been presented to do great things.
10 years ago