I got it mostly out of my system on Twitter but there IS a lesson in this idiocy from today. Do not EVER assume that just because [insert some assumption you made up inside your own head] that your postdoctoral mentor is going to continue to support you beyond some timepoint agreed upon explicitly. That time point may be established when you first join the lab, that time point may be adjusted. That timepoint may depend on forces outside of either party’s control and change despite your best mutual intentions.

Do not assume!


No. There is no “usually”. There is no “expect”.

What there is, postdocs, is discussion.

Money to support you does not grow on trees, as much as one might like to fantasize about it:


Ok, sure. There are people who have unlimited funds to tap. Sounds fine to stipulate. Most people in the biomedical sciences do not. Most of them support trainees on research grant funds, if no fellowships are available. And those grant funds cannot be just stockpiled for three years waiting for the trainee to rotate off the training grant. The grant award, for the most part, is only somewhat guaranteed for 5 years. So assuming the postdoc on a fellowship comes in to work on a given project, its clock will be ticking during the fellowship. Three years of fellowship and three years of the “expected” payback and….uh-oh. It doesn’t add up even under the perfect scenario.

so even though it is essentially impossible to make this guarantee to someone on a training fellowship..


The PI must take “financial responsibility”. For how long?

Oh, a “year or two”? Is that all? Well I suppose that is better than the equal time DLister is calling for.

and why should the PI take this responsibility for postdoctoral stints past the fellowship duration?



This may be correct for certain subfields. It may take you 5 years of postdoctoral work to get a paper. But 1) that’s your choice and 2) you and the mentor should have had a decent discussion about this stuff before you joined the lab. You should have a mutual plan in place. Don’t depend on some expectation that the PI will share your view or even have the capability of fulfilling his or her best intentions three years down the line.

Talk early, talk often.

And work as if you expect not to have a job in that lab past the most obvious end point. I.e., your fellowship end, the end of the grant that is funding you or the end of the “well I think it should be about a three year postdoc” conversation you had with the PI at the start.

Naturally at this point the conversation turns ad hominem and I am accused of being a horrible bastard of a PI.
That may be but I have explicit conversations with my postdocs all the time. About my view of their training arc when they start in my lab (3 years is the target, with some description of average duration being longer), about sources of funding (on starting with me, and as we go along), about upcoming funding cliffs (I’ve weathered more than one and less than 5 imminent lab-is-closing funding scenarios in my time) and about what results need to happen with which grant reviews along anticipated timelines for me to continue to keep them in the lab. I work to structure my lab so that no postdoc goes three years with no first-author pub in sight- that would be an abject failure within the sphere I operate. Total dereliction of my duty and/or complete failure to produce on their part. We have so far avoided this fate and I plan to continue this path. But things happen.

To recap: Don’t. Bloody. Expect. Or. Assume. That. Your. PI. Can. Float. You. After. Your. Fellowship. Ends!