Proactive Postdoc Mentoring

Sarah C. Hokanson, Bennett B. Goldberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


Early career advantages in academia tend to accumulate, providing future advantages to postdocs as their careers continue. Cumulative advantages can begin as early as in the training stage, where opportunities for success are primarily influenced by whether or not trainees have access to be engaged, positive and supportive mentoring relationships. Strong postdoc–faculty relationships have been demonstrated to influence the postdoc's career satisfaction and success (Davis, 2005) but can be challenging to establish and maintain. The nature of the postdoc position itself is a paradox of autonomy (Trevelyan, 2001), with expectations of both training and independence that can be a hard balance for postdocs and faculty mentors to mutually attain. Though lack of structured mentorship is a commonly reported mentoring challenge that limits postdoc advancement (Fetzer, 2008; Committee on Science, 2014), micromanaged postdocs also face limitations in developing the skill sets required for their next career step (Laudel & Gläser, 2008). Faculty mentors are also increasingly under strain due to pressures within the overall training system (Alberts et al., 2014). These challenges affect the postdoc–mentor relationship in many ways: (1) Juggling many of their own responsibilities limits the time faculty can commit to career mentoring and professional development; (2) Faculty have limited knowledge and experience of nonacademic careers, even though many of their postdocs will transition into those pathways; (3) Increased competition for research funding lowers faculty morale and increases the pressure on their trainees. In this chapter, we review the research-based mentoring literature and identify strategies that institutions and faculty can employ to mitigate some of the overarching challenges that negatively impact faculty mentoring practices and the postdoc–faculty relationship. Through case studies, we highlight critical aspects of positive postdoc–faculty mentoring relationships—establishing expectations, clear communication, fostering independence, and creating inclusive research and teaching environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Postdoc Landscape
Subtitle of host publicationThe Invisible Scholars
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9780128131695
ISBN (Print)9780128131701
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Expectations
  • Faculty
  • Faculty mentor
  • Faculty–postdoc interactions
  • Inclusive research environments
  • Mentoring
  • Postdoc
  • Research mentoring
  • Research-intensive universities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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