In my last post, I shared the advice that I had received as I prepared to head to my first batch of postdoctoral position interviews. I did practice my interview seminar. I packed 4 sets of nearly identical outfits to ensure a professional look – all black for the shirt, pants, and shoes with a colored cardigan for something unique each day. I did skim abstracts from recent publications again and re-read my own papers. So, with all that advanced preparation, I also come up with a list of questions to ask potential advisors and their current group members.
(1) What is the writing experience in this group? Do students and postdocs write their own papers? Do they get a chance to write a review?
(2) Are papers published in a timely manner? What is the average number of papers per student or postdoc? Are these papers published in reputable journals in that field?
(3) Do students and postdocs apply for fellowships? If so, have any won?
(4) If a fellowship is awarded to someone, do they earn a pay raise? At Scripps, graduate students must be given a supplement to the stipend if they win competitive fellowships. I don’t know of a similar policy for postdocs, but I have seen the postdocs in my group be rewarded for their accomplishment of winning a fellowship.
(5) What is an average work-day like? What are the normal hours of group members and the advisor? What is the policy for taking a day off? Can you just not show up or do you need to provide advanced notice?
(6) What is the mentoring style of the group?
(7) Where do people live? Where is housing affordable, given the salary?
(8) What are popular activities to do for fun? For example, nearby beaches, museums, live music spots, etc. These last two question sets are the most awkward, but need to be asked.
(9) What is the funding situation of this laboratory? How long will current grant money be available? Have you been successful in obtaining new grants and getting continued funding on the current grants? Funding from NIH is difficult to obtain right now, so you want to ensure the group has enough money to buy reagents and pay its members.
(10) What is the starting salary? What types of benefits are provided and at what cost? Is the salary negotiable?
I found these questions really helped me avoid uncomfortable silences when talking with advisors and group members. If the conversation slowed down, then I was able to ask one of these questions to get people talking again. It definitely helped me to have these memorized, so I wouldn’t forget them. Many people offered their email addresses if I had further questions, but I wanted to get as much information as possible during my visit.