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15 questions to ask the PI in a phone interview for a postdoctoral position

Often principal investigators (PI) conduct phone interviews with candidates for postdoctoral positions in their labs. This is particularly true when the candidates are in other states or other countries, and unable to meet with their potential mentors in person.

As a result, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs compiled this list of questions to be sure to ask:

  1. What are the PI’s expectations of the postdoctoral scientist in terms of lab work, leadership of the lab team, management of the lab?
  2. How do those differ from the expectations of a graduate student or research associate?
  3. Does the PI expect the postdoc to oversee graduate student projects?
  4. Does the PI have a specific project for you? If so, what is it?
  5. Will the PI provide extra help for long experiments?
  6. How does the PI prefer to communicate? Email, phone, face-to-face?
  7. Would you please describe the work culture?
  8. Does the PI want you to focus mostly on publications? Will the PI work together to draft the manuscripts?
  9. Does the PI want you to write a grant or fellowship application to help support your stipend and research? If so, will the PI help you write the application? How soon after you begin?
  10. Will the PI support you in taking extra courses for career building or professional development? (Postdocs at UTMB are required to enroll in the Postdoctoral Certificate Program, but some courses provide more career development opportunities than others – and these require more time away from the lab.)
  11. Does the PI encourage postdocs to participate in conferences, presentations and collaborations outside the lab?
  12. How many years of funding are guaranteed?
  13. What is the salary and benefit package? (This should wait until the PI makes the offer.)

Ask the PI to give you email addresses or phone numbers of current or previous postdocs who can provide some background information.

Questions for members of the lab:

  1. What is the lab culture? Some examples: Does the PI celebrate achievements, birthdays, encourage teamwork? What is the dominant language? Are the work hours rigid or flexible (“whatever it takes” to get the job done)? Does the PI micro-manage the work? Does the PI require the postdoc to be in the lab constantly?
  2. How much independence can the postdoc get to pursue related but separate research?