Finding Success as a Postdoc

Transitioning to a Postdoc Position

The content below will guide you in exploring how to transition into a postdoc position and how to set yourself up for success as you build professional relationships. Not only can expectations differ between a postdoc and a mentor, but the communities that you interact with might also be different than your previous experiences. This content will help you successfully parachute into a postdoc position and hit the ground running.

Course Module Introduction

Reframing Introduction

Learning Objectives

  • Develop an awareness of how multiple identities impact personal and professional interactions and acknowledge a variety of common misconceptions for the roles of postdocs.
  • Explore your community of practice, articulate your role in this community, and consider how to successfully transition into the community through building cultural capital.
  • Identify and prioritize the expectations for your postdoctoral training, align your expectations to those of your mentor, and reflect on how these expectations might evolve over time.


  • Identity and Role as a Postdoc

    open activity

    To begin, you will reflect on what elements of your professional and personal identities are important to your current position.

    Awareness of Multiple Identities

    Discussion Prompts

    • What came up for you when you filled out the grid with your most important identities?
    • What was easy to choose, what was less easy, and why?

    Listen to our colleagues reflect on the differences between the roles of graduate students and postdocs from their perspective. Then our colleagues share how their own transition from graduate student to postdoc was and what parts were particularly difficult. Next, you’ll reflect on the roles that you held as a graduate student and how those compare to your roles as a postdoc.

    Postdocs and Career Professionals Reflecting on Roles

    Postdocs and Career Professionals Reflecting on Graduate School to Postdoc Transition

  • Adapting to a New Community of Practice

    open activity

    Reflecting on Your Research Environments

    Reflection Prompts

    • How did you learn to act in research settings?
    • Which environments have shaped you, particularly as a scientist? (e.g. undergrad, grad school, postdoc, etc.) Which ones have been the most important or have had the most impact?
    • Were any of the environments particularly welcoming? Were any of the environments not inviting?

    Defining a Community of Practice

    Defining Cultural Capital

    Awareness of Community of Practice Activity

    Self-Reflection Prompts

    • Within your own project, describe how you interact with each group member and your goals for those relationships.
    • How can you ensure that your ways of working align with the existing community?
    • How can you as a postdoc shape the group dynamic?

    Becoming an Active Member of a Community of Practice

  • Identifying, Aligning, and Evolving Expectations

    open activity

    Aligning Expectations with Your Mentor

    Self-Reflection Prompts

    The table below provides sample self-reflection questions, as well as sample questions that you can ask your PI and/or members of the research group. This table is adapted from Proactive Postdoc Mentoring (Hokanson and Goldberg, 2018). Before you begin the next section, read through the table and begin to reflect on which expectations you prioritize and how those expectations align with those of your PI and/or research group. 

    Identifying your Goals and Expectations

    Self-Reflection Prompts

    The following self-reflection prompts will help you identify the goals and expectations you have for your current position.

    • What are your expectations and aspirations as a postdoc?
    • How long do you anticipate being in this postdoc position?
    • Does the length of time on your current appointment differ from how long you expect to be a postdoc?
    • What are your goals for your postdoc?
    • What are your expectations of your mentor?
    • What are your mentor’s expectations of the mentoring relationship?
    • What do you think are your mentor’s expectations of you?
    • How do these things align with your expectations and goals? How are they different? If you aren’t sure, how will you find out?


Course Module References

Additional Resources

National Postdoctoral Association Mentoring Plans

  • Resources include how to develop a postdoctoral mentoring plan, how to be proactive in your mentoring relationships, NSF mentoring requirements, and more.
  • Note: You must be an NPA member to access these resources. Check with your local postdoc office to see if your institution is a member!

AAMC Compact between Postdoc Appointees and their Mentors

  • This compact can help align the expectations in the postdoctoral mentor-mentee relationship.
  • Offers a set of guiding principles to initiate discussions around postdoctoral mentoring.

Finding Alignment on Expectations

  • Table 5.1 in Proactive Postdoc Mentoring provides a checklist for postdocs and their faculty mentor/research group.
  • These reflection questions could guide conversations about finding alignment on expectations between a postdoc and a mentor.