Postdoctoral Mentoring Plans

The National Postdoctoral Association suggests developing a mentoring plan at the onset of one’s postdoctoral training

By Jennifer Perry

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) define a postdoc as an individual who has received a doctoral degree (or equivalent) and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advance training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.

Dr. Ignacio David Acevedo-Polakovich, an Early Career Psychologist and faculty member at Central Michigan University concurs. “The postdoc should round out your doctoral training and set you in the direction you envision your career going in.“ He adds, “In terms of skills, my postdoc added to my predoc training, and I got to practice other very important skills: grant and contract writing. My postdoc mentor also networked me into the community of scholars doing work in that area.”

So, how do early-career psychologists, such as Dr. Acevedo-Polakovich know when their training period is over? When they’re ready to take the next step towards independence and begin looking for a faculty position?

The National Postdoctoral Association suggests developing a mentoring plan at the onset of one’s postdoctoral training. Indeed, some grants that include support for postdocs even require such a plan upon submission (e.g., NSF grants, NIH National Research Service Awards). The mentoring plan provides an outline of the experiences and activities that the postdoc will be involved in, and how each of those activities will contribute to the postdoc’s career goals. Upon completion of this mentoring plan, a postdoc should have the skills and resources necessary for developing an independent career.

Self-assessment is critical for the development of a mentoring plan. Assess your skills/strengths and areas that need development. Identify your long-term career goals and the tools that will be necessary to meet these goals. Also identify short-term needs for improvement, such as laboratory skills that will increase your productivity or written communication skills that will increase your likelihood of publication.

Next, find experiences that will enhance your skills in areas that need development. For example, if you struggle with public speaking, find opportunities to present your research to your colleagues. Discuss your self-assessment and opportunities with your postdoc mentor. He/she would likely be a great resource for identifying additional strengths/needs and creating more opportunities. Furthermore, scheduling regular meetings with your mentor to discuss your mentoring plan will help both you and your mentor track your progress, identify additional strengths/needs, and keep you focused on achieving your goals – namely, research independence and that first faculty position.