Contributed by Kurt (May 30, 2013) | A description of an academic advisor for your postdoc can be thought of in two respects: on paper and in person. On paper there are certain things that you look for in an advisor that will reflect well on you when you take that next career step. The more successful the PI, the better chance you have of making it as a scientist. There is no doubt that it matters who you hitch your wagon to. If the advisor is a really big deal, with it comes a certain level of publicity and a large number of contacts that you may turn to down the road. Ideally you will find an advisor who is established, has a great reputation as a scientist, who publishes frequently (very frequently), and is well funded.
In person several characteristics of the advisor, whether they are a big deal or not, may support your development as a scientist. Conversely certain traits may just as likely hinder you and cause you to run as far away from the lab as possible. It seems that many frustrations for postdocs stem from poor communication with their advisors. An advisor who effectively communicates their expectations of each lab member and what they want out of designated projects will be much easier to work with. Another trait that should not be over looked is an advisor’s willingness to recognize that a postdoc is a trainee. The advisor needs to be open to a postdoc learning about new topics and exploring experiments that differ from their current repertoire. Overall, an advisor needs to understand and embrace a postdoc’s goals, especially if they do not perfectly mirror the advisor’s career. If you can find an advisor who genuinely keeps the best interest of his or her trainees in mind, you will be well off.
Lastly, I must add that it is useful to know what previous postdocs from a lab have gone on to do. It could be an indication of good mentoring….or that the lab is a dead end.