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bullet Planning Your Postdoc

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Planning Your Postdoc

The relationship between the adviser and the postdoc is of prime importance if the postdoctoral experience is to be beneficial to both parties. Postdoctoral training is of utmost importance in the preparation of scientists for careers as scientific professionals. This training is typically conducted in an apprenticeship mode where the postdoctoral appointee undertakes scholarship, research, service, and/or teaching activities that, taken together, provide a training experience for career advancement.

Potential Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Mentor and Adviser ARROW

According to the above study conducted by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences (“Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers”, National Academy Press, ©2000), the best time for a postdoc to evaluate a potential postdoctoral position is before signing on. It may be difficult to adjust the major conditions of an appointment once it is underway.

You may want to ask the following questions of a potential mentor/adviser:

  1. What are the advisers expectations of the postdoc?
  2. Will the adviser or the postdoc determine the research program?
  3. How many postdocs has this adviser had? Where did they go afterwards?
  4. What do current and past lab members think about their experiences?
  5. Will the adviser have time for mentoring? Should I seek out other mentors?
  6. How many others (graduate students, staff, postdocs) now work for this adviser?
  7. How many papers are being published? Where?
  8. What is the advisers policy on travel to meetings? Authorship? Ownership of ideas?
  9. Will I have practice in grant writing, teaching, mentoring? Oral presentations? Review of manuscripts?
  10. Can I expect to take part of the project away with me after the postdoc?
  11. How long is financial support guaranteed? On what does the renewal of my appointment depend upon?
  12. Will the adviser have adequate research funds to support the proposed research?
  13. Can I count on help in finding a position after my postdoc?

Roles and Responsibilities of the Postdoc and the Adviser ARROW

A number of organizations, recognizing the importance of this relationship, have prepared reports and weighed-in on the respective roles of the adviser and the postdoc:

Enhancing the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers - A Guide for Postdoctoral Scholars, Advisers, Institutions, Funding Organizations, and Disciplinary Societies


The Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences has prepared a report that addresses five primary populations, all of whom participate in the postdoctoral experience: the postdoctoral officers themselves, their advisers, their host institutions, the agencies and organizations that support them and professional disciplinary societies. It is also intended for senior-level graduate students who may be contemplating postdoctoral work. The report states that the postdoc “has a quid pro quo relationship with the research community”. In order to enhance this relationship we are also providing, a “Roles and Responsibilities” document for both postdocs and their advisers.


The Compact was drafted by the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Group on Graduate, Research, Education, and Training and its Postdoctorate Committee. Its intent is to “initiate discussions at the local and national levels about the postdoctoral appointee-mentor relationship and the commitments necessary for a high quality postdoctoral training experience.” According to this Compact, core tenets of postdoctoral training include:

  • Institutional Commitment
  • Quality Postdoctoral Training
  • Importance of Mentoring in Postdoctoral Training
  • Foster Breadth and Flexibility in Career Choices

The Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and their Mentors details necessary commitments of both postdoctoral appointees and mentors.

Create an Individual Development Plan ARROW

To learn about what an Individual Development Plan (IDP) is and why they are critical for Postdocs to develop, please read "A Spotlight on Individual Development Plans (IDPs)."

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA), he Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), the Graduate Program at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Columbia University co-sponsor an annual program to assist PhD graduate students and postdoctoral researchers with the implementation of Individual Development Plans (IDPs). The IDP program developed at Columbia University has been designed for NIH-funded graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, with a particular goal of reaching graduate students in the third and fourth year of training and postdoctoral researchers in the first two years of training. However, the program will be applicable to non-NIH-funded graduate students and postdocs, particularly those in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields.

The 2016 program will commence with a three-part seminar series on IDPs:

  • September 14thand 15th, 2016:This seminar led by Rory Flinn, Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at Columbia University, this seminar will address the importance of career management, how to conduct a self-assessment, the significance of an IDP, best practices for developing an IDP, Goal setting, and how to discuss an IDP with a mentor
  • September 21st, 2016: This seminar led by Dave Jensen, Founder and Managing Director for CTI Executive Search and writer for "Tooling Up" column for the journal Science, will cover differences between academia and industry, networking, informational interviews, and strategies for an effective job search.
  • September 30thand October 1st:This seminar led by Victoria Blodgett, Assistant Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs at University of Connecticut, will cover transferable skills, career exploration, career options for PhDs, and personal branding.

Program participants will provide elements of their IDPs to their Graduate School or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs to ensure compliance, and are strongly encouraged to share portions of their IDPs with their faculty mentors.

Following the IDP seminar series, a monthly career panel and networking reception will allow trainees to learn about a variety of career opportunities both within and beyond academia. Postdoctoral researchers may also join peer mentoring groups to discuss their IDPs, career goals, and career exploration activities, and to receive support and feedback from their peers.

In addition, optional workshops will assist trainees in the completion of an IDP. Program participants will provide elements of their IDPs to their Graduate School or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs to ensure compliance, and are encouraged to share portions of their IDPs with their faculty mentors.

For more information about the Columbia University IDP program, including details for PIs to utilize for grant applications and progress reports, please visit: https://www2.gsas.columbia.edu/idp/ .

Additional IDP resources:

In 2003, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) put together an IDP template for postdocs in the sciences. This paper form can be completed by postdocs and their advisors.

Building on the FASEB IDP template, Science Careers, FASEB, AAAS, and several other organizations came together and created a free online career planning tool specifically for graduate students and postdocs, ‘myIDP’. Trainees go through through four steps 1) self evaluation of skills, values, and interests, 2) exploring and evaluating career opportunities and identifying career options, 3) setting career development goals & 4) implementing a plan of action in myIDP. myIDP also allows users to share their IDP or portions of their IDP with their mentors.

To access myIDP please go to: http://myidp.sciencecareers.org . To learn more about myIDP please read “You Need a Game Plan”, which is the first in a series of articles regarding myIDP that is published in www.sciencecareers.org.

Postdocs who would like more information on how to get the most out of using myIDP as well as mentors who would like more information on how to incorporate the use of myIDP into their mentoring plan can contact Rory Flinn at rf2531@columbia.edu.


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Career Development Programming and Services

OPA is dedicated to the professional and career development of our Postdoctoral Trainees. OPA is in the process of building a highly structured postdoctoral career and professional development curriculum that will be fully implemented by the 2017-2018 academic year. The curriculum will consist of a variety of short courses, seminar series, intensive workshops, and individualized support. The programming will be consistently run annually so that postdocs can build these programs into their training plans while at Columbia University. In addition to the more structured curriculum, OPA also organizes stand-alone workshops and events throughout each year.


The structured postdoctoral training program that OPA has been building over the past year focuses on broad areas that align with four of the six core competencies identified by the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) as being critical for successful postdoctoral training. The Columbia postdoctoral training program focuses on: professionalism, leadership and management, communication, career management, and responsible conduct of research. Two of the six (NPA) core competencies, discipline-specific conceptual knowledge and research skill development, are largely areas that postdocs should receive training on through their PI, mentor, or on their own, and are not widely encompassed in the OPA postdoctoral training program. The OPA structured postdoctoral training program, once fully implemented, will consist of multiple distinct series and minicourses that, in totality, will enable postdocs to achieve the following postdoctoral training program goals:

The components of the postdoctoral training program will entail:

Individual Development Plan (IDP) Program: This program covers topics such as career management, career exploration, career path selection, networking, goal setting and developing an individual development plan. This program is run annually each Fall:Columbia University Individual Development Plan (IDP) Program

Career Panel Series: This annual series exposes trainees to a variety of career opportunities that exist for doctoral level researchers. This program is run annually in the winter and spring. Please see the IDP program website listed above for information on the career panels that were run in 2014-2016.

Career Advancement Series: These six workshops focus on creating a targeted resume, a professional CV, drafting a persuasive cover letter, interviewing effectively, strategically networking, and managing one's career. Individual workshops from this series will be held monthly, with each workshop being held 1-3 times per year. 

Funding Strategies Seminar Series: This series will cover topics such as fellowship opportunities for early stage postdocs, funding opportunities for mid- and late-stage postdocs, and best practices in grant writing. This series will commence fully in Fall 2016. Currently stand-alone seminars have been provided on these topics each Fall.

Fundamentals of Teaching Minicourse: This minicourse introduces the different modes by which students learn, effective teaching strategies to promote transformative learning, techniques to develop a course and manage a classroom and provides participants the opportunity to practice these techniques. This minicourse takes place every spring. Please see the course website for information on the the structure of the course: 'Teaching 2.0-What you need to know to be a successful teacher'

Transitioning to Research Independence Minicourse: This minicourse covers topics such as the faculty application and interviewing process, negotiating a start-up package, staffing a research group, faculty funding and publication strategies, project management, team leadership and considerations of university structures and the roles faculty play within a university. This minicourse takes place each summer. Please see the course website for information on the structure of the course: Transitioning to Research Independence

Professionalism and Research Integrity Minicourse: This minicourse will cover topics such as professionalism in the academic and non-academic workplace, data management strategies, data manipulation, conflict of interests, research misconduct, mentorship, authorship and intellectual property. This minicourse will be launched in Fall 2016. Mmany topics of this minicourse were covered in a monthly postdoc series, and more information about this series can be found here:How to Conduct Research that Gets Published and Noticed

Communication Minicourse: This minicourse will cover topics such as interpersonal communication, public speaking, research presentations, communicating research to a lay audience, strategies for writing an effective research manuscript, negotiation, and conflict resolution. This course will be fully launched in Spring of 2017, however a communication series which will cover some of these topics will occur in Spring 2016.

Business of Science and Research Minicourse: This minicourse will cover topics such as patenting innovative research, product commercialization, considerations for launching a research start-up company, business funding strategies, as well as business principles in science and research. This course will be launched during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Industry Career Fundamentals Minicourse: This minicourse will cover topics such as types of industries and positions, team-based working environments, professionalism in the industry workplace, basic business principles, industry job searches and interviewing, and strategic networking. This course will be launched in 2018. In the meantime, we will contine to hold the day long 'SciPhD: Preparing for an Industry Career' workshop each summer.

Leadership and Management Minicourse: This minicourse will cover topics such developing leadership strengths, strategic planning, managing a team, managing a budget, conflict resolution, and project and time management. This course will be launched in 2018. In the meantime, many of these topics are covered either through stand-alone workshops or in sessions within either the communications series or the Transitioning the research independence course.

The Following three courses are not organized by OPA, but are open to postdocs:

Research Statistics Course: This semester-long graduate level course on CUMC covers topics such as strategies for designing experiments, utilizing proper controls, sample sizes, defining and reaching statistical significance, sound statistical approaches in research and data integrity. This course is already offered by the P&S graduate program and will be open to postdocs wishing to audit the course in Spring 2017, and is held each Spring.

Funding and Grantsmanship Course:This semester long course at CUMC covers topics such as funding mechanisms for junior faculty, postdocs, and grad students, grant writing basics, and the grant review process. The course is offered each Spring and Postdoctoral Trainees are invited to audit the course: Funding and Grantsmanship for Research and Career Development Activities

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Course: This semester long course at CUMC covers ethical research practices and avoiding research misconduct, and satisfies the NIH NRSA RCR training requirements. The cours is offered each Spring and Postdoctoral Trainees are invited to audit the course: Responsible Conduct of Research and Related Policy Issues


Announcements about upcoming OPA organized programming are sent to Postdocs through the email mailing list each Tuesday in our 'Weekly Digest'. Programs are advertised several weeks in advance to provide ample time to register. These events and programs are also posted on the OPA events calendar. There are also a large number of events and programs that occur throughout the year that are not organized by OPA, but would be of interest to postdocs. We organize these events into the 'weekly listing of events taking place at Columbia and beyond' and send this out to postdoc every Thursday. Send us an email if you are not receiving these emails.


Interested parties can also view our programming for Fall 2016, Fall 2015, Winter 2016, and Spring 2016, or can view the programming we have organized last year here:

List of Summer 2014-Spring 2015 OPA programming  


OPA also organizes an annual Postdoc Research and Career Symposium for the purpose of creating an opportunity for postdocs to present their research, learn about the research that other postdocs are carrying out, and to learn about career opportunities. In 2015, this symposium featured a poster session with over 100 postdocs presenting their research, 5 short research talks by postdocs selected by faculty committees (each selected postdoc recieved a $1000 award), a keynote talk by George Yancopoulos, the President and CSO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and a networking reception, and a half-day graduate level career fair. For more information about this past year's symposium please visit the symposium website . The next Postdoc symposium will occur on October 14, 2016:

Everyone in the Columbia University research community is invited to attend the symposium. Please RSVP using the following link: http:// tinyurl.com/ 2016PostdocSymposiumRSVP

Postdocs interested in presenting a poster at the symposium (several $500 poster awards to be given out) must submit an abstract bySeptembe through the following link: http://tinyurl.com/  2016PostdocSymposiumSubmission


Postdoc Peer Mentoring Groups

OPA organizes new peer mentoring groups every Fall, with new groups formed on each of the Medical, Morningside, and Lamont campuses. Each  peer mentoring group consists of up to 10 postdocs and meets regularly (generally once per month) as a group to discuss career goals, plans, and receive peer feedback and support. The initial group meeting is led by the Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs with subsequent meetings being led and organized independently by the group. The peer mentoring groups are be best suited for postdocs interested in career exploration, particularly postdocs in the first two years of their postdoctoral training. Postdocs with more defined career goals would also find a peer mentoring group helpful, as the group conducts activities aimed at networking and identifying resources to obtain the skills, knowledge, and experiences necessary to be competitive for career paths of interest.

OPA holds info sessions in the early Fall each year about the format of the peer mentoring groups, the expectations for group members, suggested discussion topics, and potential action items. Postdocs interested in joining a peer mentoring group should plan to attend one of the info sessions in the early Fall.


Career Counseling Service

OPA provides individualized career counseling services throughout the year. Individual appointments can be scheduled for review of job documents (see the first link below), or can focus on interviewing for positions, career exploration, or career management (see second link below).

CV/Resume/Cover Letter Feedback Appointments

Wednesdays 4 PM – 6 PM (30 min appointments) with Rory Flinn

Location alternates between CUMC, MORNINGSIDE, with Skype appointments available

Appointment must be scheduled using the following link: https://cu-postdoc-career-counseling.acuityscheduling.com/

Career Counseling Individual Appointments

45 min appointments with Rory Flinn ; Appointment days vary throughout the year, however, 3-5 hours weekly will be set aside for these types of appointments.

Appointment must be scheduled using the following link: https://cu-postdoc-career-counseling.acuityscheduling.com/



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Other Columbia Resources

Funding and Grantsmanship Course at CUMC - Postdoctoral Trainees are invited to audit: Funding and Grantsmanship for Research and Career Development Activities


Responsible Conduct of Research Course at CUMC - Postdoctoral Trainees are invited to audit: Responsible Conduct of Research and Related Policy Issues


GSAS - All professional development training sessions hosted through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are open to postdocs. The schedule of relevant classes and workshops can be found on the OPA event calendar. A full listing of events can be found on the GSAS events calendar.


Skills @ Columbia – Free online courses from Columbia Human Resource Learning and Development. Take advantage of more than 1,000 online courses through Skills @ Columbia at no charge, anytime, anywhere.  Choose from a wide range of management, communication, and personal development courses. To log in to Skills @ Columbia, all you need is your UNI and password. Visit:



CTV – Columbia Technology Ventures facilitate the translation of academic research into practical applications and support research, education and teaching at Columbia by generating funding for the University and facilitating partnerships with industry where appropriate. They also educate and serve as a resource for the Columbia community on matters relating to entrepreneurship, intellectual property, and technology commercialization. Events hosted by CTV are open to the Columbia community http://www.techventures.columbia.edu/

IvyLife-Columbia - IvyLife-Columbia is a LinkedIn group, which is also part of the

the parent group, IvyLife. The group hosts networking breakfasts and evening events each month. Both groups hold various netwoking events in NYC as well as around the world. For more information, visit the group on LinkedIn or http://www.ivylife-columbia.net.


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National Postdoctoral Association

As a sponsoring member of the National Postdoctoral Association, OPA provides free affiliate membership to Columbia Postdocs to the NPA. This section on the National Postdoctoral Association website describes various career paths a PhD scientist may choose to follow, and provides links to various sources of information related to those careers. Also, be sure to review the NPA Postdoctoral Core Competencies Toolkit.

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Additional External Resources

American Association for the Advancement of Science

The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE)

NIH OITE offers a variety of archived videos of their career and professional development skills workshops on such topics as communication skills, grant writing, career exploration, networking for scientists and engineers, the industry job search, and academic job search just to name a few.

Have you ever wondered where you are going in your career and how you might be able to better manage your career and stay on task to achieve your career goals (or to develop career goals in the first place)? You should read the following articles and complete your own individual development plan (geared towards science postdocs but still relevant for a wide-range of fields): http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/author/cynthia-n.-fuhrmann and http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/

Elsevier, the widely known publishing company, has a career resources webpage that provides a fair amount of career resources for early stage researcher, with a particular focus on publishing: http://www.elsevier.com/early-career-researchers/home

There are a wealth of events on career and professional development topics of interest to postdocs that take place across NYC hosted by a large number of different groups. You may be interested in learning about these various events, and now there is a convinient way to do so through the New York Science Career Events page and mailing list: http://newyorkscienceevents.com/


NY Academy of Sciences

NY Tech Connect
    Minority Postdoc

Science House

http://janetkayfetz.wordpress.com/  The “Art and Craft of Writing and Speaking”

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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Related Career Resources:



Data Science:


Job Boards

Chronicle of Higher Education
Metro-New York/Southern Connecticut Higher Education Recruitment Consortium

Jobs for PhDs
Nature Jobs
New Jersey HERC
New England HERC
Postdoc Jobs

Postdoctoral Life

Propel Careers
Science Careers
Top Higher-Education Jobs

Online PhD





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Job Opportunities

Whenever OPA receives notifications about academic and industry career opportunities we post those opportunities on our LinkedIn group. To join our Linkedin group please go to Columbia University Postdocs and Postdoc Alumni.  

If you are an academic institution or industry employer and would like to submit a career opportunity to our Postdoctoral Trainees or would like to hold an info session on campus, please contact  postdocaffairs@columbia.edu.


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