10 habits for a successful postdoc

Example citation

Key takeaways

  • A key insight for me is that the postdoc is supposed to be the start of your path towards independence. It’s ok to not be fully independent just yet
  • The things I need to practice still are:
    • Writing grant proposals
    • Interacting with the wider scientific community (collaborations etc)
    • Leadership, taking on students

Take ownership of your project

Be proud that you are the one that knows the most about this project. Ask for help, nobody expects you to know everything as a post-doc.

Read broadly and learn more about research

It’s time to start the transition to your independent career. This was comforting to read because I have the sense right now that I should already be in that transition, but I guess I am running too far ahead.

Learn how to train people

You are not doing research in isolation, so practice leadership skills! Take on undergraduate students, take courses in mentoring and teaching.

Practice writing papers and giving talks

I think I have these covered mostly, sounds like PhD students in the US are less independent than we are here.

Position yourself to get good letters of reference

This typically means networking with collaborators and interacting with other faculty than your supervisors.

Learn organisational skills

General productivity

Be a good citizen of the lab and the department

Be nice to others and help out, this will help you as you become more senior.


What scientific community do you want to be in? Try to get to know that community, interact with their members.

Learn how to write grants and apply for your own funding

Help your PI writing grants to learn the craft.

Ask to see successful applications from colleagues.

Finish papers before you leave your postdoc

Finish everything!

I guess the main point is that if you go to another place after your postdoc, you’ll be busy over there and finishing your paper is way less likely.