Are you unsure of whether to pursue a first or second postdoc? If so, be strategic in choosing your next training opportunity.
The most important factor in choosing a postdoc is finding a PI who will support your career aspirations and training. Unfortunately, many scientists choose a postdoc based solely on the science conducted in a particular lab. In addition to asking about the projects that you will work on, you should also ask about:
• Where the previous postdocs are currently working
• Whether you will have the liberty to pursue other training opportunities outside of the lab (e.g. teaching, course work, writing, etc.); and
• How success in a postdoc is measured
In an interview, you must first stress your commitment to the research. However, do not avoid discussing the impact that the postdoc will have on your career. When I interviewed for postdoc positions, I was honest about my training and career goals. This allowed me to choose a PI who was both an excellent scientist and mentor. If you find that the answers to the above questions deviate from your own goals, then you may not want to work for that PI.
When exploring postdoc opportunities, you should also consider the professional development resources that institutions provide. Even if you are adamant about staying in Academia, you should consider institutions that support a variety of career options for scientists. Just because you are interested in careers in academia now, does not mean that this will be true several years into your postdoc.
During graduate school, I was considering a career in science outreach and policy. I strategically selected a postdoc at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, because of their exceptional professional development resources for scientists.
I also knew that conducting a postdoc in the DC area would allow me to build a solid network of people working in policy. Many institutions currently offer excellent career development support for graduate students and postdocs, including those that received the Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) grant from the NIH. When you interview for postdoc positions, stop by the office of postdoctoral affairs, if they have one, and ask about career resources for scientists.
Many individuals conduct a postdoc as the default next step after graduate school. If you do your homework prior to interviewing for positions, you should be able to choose a postdoc that will help launch your career.