What Every Postdoc Needs to Know - book notes

The book presents guidance on the postdoc life
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
academia book research review

These book notes are made from the (excellent) "What Every Postdoc Needs to Know" guide-book by Elvidge, Spencely, and Williams. I would recommend going through the book to understand the questions and notes and to provide more context on how they can be best applied. Some of the notes below reflect excercises or thoughts triggered by the book's explicit questions, while others are highlighted items I found enlightening or worth remembering.


People, Place, Project

  • People
    • Checklist - people going to be working with (pg.7)
    • Networking at conferences and meetings (pg.113)
  • Place
    • Checklist - institution and place (pg.8)
    • Selecting good institution (pg.15)
      • Whose advice will you seek regarding places to work?
      • What are you going to ask the people you have identified above?
      • Where else can you get some good advice and insight from?
      • university rankings (pg.17)
      • factors important in choosing a place to work ; whic of these are important? (pg.21)
      • support for career development (pg.23)
    • Checklist - Visa/Permit (pg.30)
  • Project
    • Checklist - details of project (pg.9)/h4>
    • ask to read grant of funded project and understand what stage the project has reached
    • Is the role dependant on someone else doing work?

Reasons for doing/not-doing a Postdoc

  • Checklist - Why are you doing a postdoc? (pg.39-40)
  • Pathmotion - career development website

Measures for Success (pg.41)

Principal Investigator POV

  • publishes, produces data/results/research outputs linked with funded project
  • helping/mentoring other researchers within the team
  • contributing to overall team 'performance'

Self POV

  • proactive and organised
  • seek opportunities to expand experience and skills
  • go out and get own funding or find another job
  • managing time and devote energy to 'important but not urgent' work
  • have a publication plan, a project plan, and a personal career development plan
  • really good separation of work and personal - and time for both

Checklist - transferable skills (pg.91)

  • most PIs will be happy to provide this guidance but may not instigate the meetings, therefore, it is up to you to request them

Raising academic profile (pg.48)

  • publish
  • increase citations
  • widen participation and public engagement activities
  • present at conferences - locally, nationally, internationally
  • update university webpages
  • use social media outlets to advertise work
  • add signature at bottom of email with latest publication
  • attend seminars and ask questions
  • volunteer for committees
  • get involved with teaching
  • organise events for postdocs e.g. get someone to talk about CVs, preparing funding bids, or networking coffee session
  • setup journal club or reading group
  • attend staff development events
  • present work at any given opportunitiy - departmental, local, instituation, city, national, international

Teaching and Supervision (pg.77)

  • for career direction towards lectureship, the CV needs a good variety of teaching
  • CV should have record of teaching - records of who was taught, what, and when; class size and class levels

Organisation and Productivity

Checklist - setup (pg.44-46)

  • use one diary for everything, preferably make it electronic
  • have multiple calendars for different projects, family, members, etc.
  • allow for searching
  • allow to subscribe for calendars for seminars, institutions, events, etc.
  • link to emails so details of meeting can be linked to the event
  • allow sharing with others
  • set reminders for events
  • link to planning tools
  • visual check on what is taking up time
  • track spending of time
  • measure how long it takes to do things
  • importance rating and deadlines
  • (page 131) set SMART goals - sensible specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely

3Ds for handling incoming emails (pg.46-47)

  • Do it if it takes less than 5 mins
  • Diarise it - store it somewhere and set a time to do it
  • Delete it - if not relevant
  • unsubscribe to anything not helpful or don't need
    personal note If there is some inherent value in keeping these emails, create an email filter (e.g. in Gmail or Thunderbird) and automatically put these in respective folders/labels, and mark them as read.
  • use email folders, rules to make things easy to find
  • check email at specific times rather than constantly
  • limit time on email
  • use professional signature with contact details
  • clear inbox occasionally
  • do not check email late at night or early morning
  • always think - would this be quicker picking up the phone?

Meetings with PI (pg.58)

  • set a short agenda by email before meeting
  • give plenty time to read related paperwork
  • if there are problems, bring proposed solutions to meeting
  • share successes and interesting results
  • update publication plan at end of meeting
  • ask for feedback
  • after meeting, confirm actions by email and thank them for their time

Research Integrity and Ethics

  • Checklist - Research ownership, IP (pg. 153)

Teaching & Supervising

  • Teaching Philosophy
  • Teaching Opportunities
    • Speak with PI
    • Speak with Head of graduate courses
    • Volunteer in skills development programmes or school workshops
    • Set up class on technique or topic

Teaching Record

  • Taught who, what, when
  • Class size
  • Record feedback


  • Checklist - Career information and options (pg.164-165)
  • Questions and Criteria for Career and Jobs (pg.178-179)
  • Checklist - Fellowships (pg.191)