Effective Practices for Postdoctoral Researchers


  1. Postdoctoral researchers are at an early career stage and it is important to ensure that they are well mentored and encouraged to network. Organizations should monitor practices at the individual group level to insure compliance with organizational practices, as well as providing opportunities for postdocs to get together as a group. Postdocs should be encouraged to connect outside of their areas of specialization.
  2. Help postdocs broaden their CV so that it goes beyond being just a list of papers, by providing opportunities for postdocs and research scientists to publish independently, teach courses, be involved in mentoring undergraduate researchers, and develop grant applications (including serving as PIs). These opportunities will be a significant advantage for them as they interview for permanent positions in academia, national labs, or the private sector. While some postdocs or their PIs already take initiative to incorporate these into the job, it is important to endorse and advertise these opportunities, and send the message to PIs that their postdocs should have these opportunities.
  3. A clear policy on dependent care leave should be in place within units/organizations and the policy should be made known at the time of hire, regardless of the individual hired - treat everyone the same by not making assumptions about who may need to know the policy. Do not ask anyone if they have dependents—questions like these are unethical and often illegal. When no clear unit or organizational policy is in place, individual PIs should create a dependent care leave policy for their lab which allows for adequate leave time. Units and organizations should encourage both men and women to take advantage of these leaves. Units are encouraged to set aside space for a lactation room and to have clear policies for when caregivers can bring children to work.
  4. An annual conversation should be held with all postdocs and research scientists, with clear and specific feedback, and with an opportunity for discussion of career goals. Faculty should receive training on how to give performance reviews.
  5. Ensure that research scientists have a well-established career path within a unit (e.g. Postdoc, Research Scientist, Senior Research Scientist, Faculty Adjunct, etc.) These individuals should get advice on the steps they would have to take to advance within the research scientist structure, or alternatively to secure an independent permanent position should they so desire. There is a need to ensure career development occurs, even for long-term staff. Publish or make broadly known the gender demographics of positions such as research staff to encourage an unbiased recruitment and retention approach.
  6. Even if you perceive your environment to be welcoming, it is important to realize that different groups have different perceptions and experiences. Postdocs and research scientists should be welcomed and made to feel that they are performing a valued role. Otherwise, this group can easily become “invisible”. It is important they be provided with networking opportunities within and outside of the unit, since women tend to be more isolated in a male-dominated discipline. Whenever possible, units should make an explicit effort to include postdocs and research scientists in social and committee activities, including thesis committees.
  7. Communicate to everyone why climate issues are important, including how diversity and inclusion help advance science. Stress how a welcoming and mutually supportive environment will help the unit recruit and support the best students, staff, and faculty. Ensure that this responsibility does not rest solely on the shoulders of female postdocs/faculty/graduate students. Acknowledge that common issues women encounter can also affect men. Recognize diversity is intersectional, and that women may also be underrepresented minorities, sexual or gender minorities, first generation college students, non-native English speakers, and so on, with accompanying issues the multiply impact their experiences within the discipline.
  8. It is important for underrepresented groups to know that they can speak to someone outside of their lab should an issue arise. As a simple informal tool to handle minor grievances, units can establish a secondary mentor for postdocs or establish a peer mentoring system (e.g., assigning a “coffee buddy” and providing coupons as an incentive to establishing the relationship). It should be made clear to new hires which official contacts (unit chair, ombudsperson, Title IX coordinator, HR, environmental health, police, etc.) they can and should use for serious complaints including sexual harassment and assault.

The Committee on the Status of Women welcomes comments or suggestions on how to improve these effective practice guides. Please email women@aps.org to contact us.

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