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Funding and recruiting postdocs

Supporting the career development of your postdocs starts long before they join your research project. The earlier you consider the potential development needs of your postdocs, the more they’ll get from working for you.  

On this page we explore how you can support postdocs at the grant application and postdoc recruitment stages. 


Funding organisations are moving away from the ‘fund and forget’ model of research and considering the needs of those delivering research. Funders are recognising the importance of every team member, including postdocs, and the detrimental impact of the current funding model.

‘Postdocs are the vital engine of research and without them the UK would be unable to deliver world-leading bioscience research and research outcomes.

BBSRC Vision for Postdoctoral Researchers 2018

UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) People and Teams 2023 Action Plan made it clear that the funding agency (which includes the six research councils, Research England, Innovate UK and the STFC) considers staff development as an “important outcome of research projects”. Similarly, Wellcome’s 2022 Continuing Professional Development policy states that “CPD should be integrated into all roles to allow people to grow to their full potential”. 

Funders are looking for PIs to demonstrate greater people management and leadership skills.  

UKRI intends to reward project leaders who “support the careers of their staff” and are going to embed “incentives for workforce development in grant assessments” (UKRI 2023).

The European Research Council evaluates research proposals on two areas: the research project and the principal investigator themselves, who must demonstrate “sound leadership in the training and advancement of young scientists” (ERC Advanced Grants 2023). 

Recently I've managed to use grant funding to support some of my PDRAs to do product management training.

Prof Rachel Williams, Professor of Ophthalmic Bioengineering, University of Liverpool. 

Writing funding applications 

Funders are looking for evidence of applicants leading and managing their research staff and supporting their development. When considering applications, UKRI grant assessors look for: 

  • How will you develop and maintain your own people leadership and management skills? 
  • How will you support the career and professional development of your team members for a broad range of roles and careers? How will you make a difference to the career path of your research postdoc? 
  • How have you demonstrated your ability to develop others and maintain effective working relationships? 

Currently the best place to articulate how you support the development of others is in a narrative CV, if the funding scheme you are applying to uses one. Module 2 of UKRI’s Resume for Research and Innovation is headed ‘The development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships’. When writing a narrative CV, remember to provide examples, describing what you did and what the outcome was as a result. How did your postdoc, PhD student, technician or colleague benefit from the actions you took? 

Development costs 

When planning your project, consider the potential costs of staff development and what other resources might be needed. 

“I think some of it should be done at the application stage and make sure that you’ve budgeted in correctly for their time but also that there’s a budget for their training. I think it’s really unfortunate if there’s a postdoc without some conference attendance funding attached or training attached, so for the last bids I’ve been involved with I’ve included some money for that.”

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Social Science, University of Bristol 

Factor in the time for development

Institutions that are signatories of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers should provide their research staff with at least 10 days of continual professional development a year.

The 10 days of professional development recommended by the Concordat is in addition to project-specific skills training or other project-related activities. For example, time taken to write a research paper based on the project, whilst undoubtedly beneficial for your postdoc’s career, is not part of their 10 days professional development. 

Over a three-year postdoc position, at least one whole month should be devoted to professional development activities. That’s one month less spent on your research project so make sure to account for that in your planning. 


Recruitment is the most important stage of your project. Recruiting the right person in a fair and transparent manner is better for you, your research and the applicants. Be aware that recruitment processes can be subject to conscious and unconscious biases. 

The job advert

The job advert is the first opportunity to sell your organisation and research project. Writing a good job advert can mean the difference between getting a great postdoc or not finding someone suitable. 

Plan: Good recruitment takes planning. Before writing the advert, make sure you have defined the role clearly – what are the job requirements, the skills needed and the key expectations. Your HR department may be able to give you advice on how to perform a ‘post evaluation’ should you feel it necessary. What are the visa implications should an international researcher apply? 

Clarity: The recruitment text should be clear, concise and accessible, providing the reader with the essential information they need to know about the role and your team. 

‘Try and think like an ‘outsider.’ Things that you take for granted, flexible working, community activities or industry placements may be unique to your organisation, and something that candidates aspire to.’

N8CIR 2022

Language: Ensure the language you use is inclusive to prevent exclusion of under-represented groups (NERC 2022). Gendered language, for instance, might put off female candidates from applying. You can check the recruitment text using an online gender-decoder tool

Imagery: In recruitment materials ensure that the imagery used is reflective of a diverse community, helping to encourage a broad range of applicants (NERC 2022). 

Advertising: Advertise your position widely and create a short version of recruitment text to ‘advertise the ad’ on social media, LinkedIn, and field-specific websites, in addition to the standard home institute website and FindAPostDoc (Hill 2022; NERC 2022). 

‘The more people who see your vacancy the more chance you have to recruit the best available candidate and the more inclusive the process is.’

N8CIR 2022

Opportunities: The job advert enables you to inform candidates about the culture and environment of your team and institution. Be clear about the level of support available throughout the post (NERC 2022). Demonstrating in the advert that you care about the career development of your postdocs may help you to attract a broader range of applicants and allow you to select the very best. 

“I feel like as a PI I’ve grown a bit of a reputation of being supportive and supporting others.

Prof Melissa Gladstone, Professor in Neurodevelopmental Paediatrics and International Child Health, University of Liverpool

The interview

Job interviews can be stressful for interviewees and interviewers alike. Plan and prepare for the interview process to make it fair and alleviate stress. 

Shortlisting: Ensure that the scoring process of applications is fair and transparent. Use a standardised quantitative shortlisting matrix with pre-defined scoring criteria and provide those involved with shortlisting with clear guidance (NERC 2022). 

The interviewee: Consider the needs of the applicant. Ask in advance whether they have any accessibility needs or require special adjustments. Provide plenty of time between inviting applicants to interview and the interview itself, especially if they are required to do any tasks in advance or prepare a presentation. Applicants with caring responsibilities find it harder to make time around their work and other duties. Similarly, provide options for interview date and time to accommodate individual applicant circumstances, and schedule interview times within core childcare hours. 

The interview panel: All members of the interview panel should be clear on their role and the agenda for the interview. Provide the panel with guidance and links to your institution’s recruitment practices. Try to have a diverse panel (for example, gender, ethnicity, career stage) without putting disproportionate pressure on staff from minority backgrounds who may be frequently called upon for such duties. 

The interview: Be transparent and fair about the interview process and use a clear marking system to score responses. Ask the same basic questions to each candidate, following up with individual questions as relevant. Try to avoid lengthy questions with multiple parts and try not to interrupt during answers. Help the interviewee to return to the main points if they stray during an answer, and if they haven’t answered the question, you can reframe it to ask them again. Schedule breaks between interviews to ensure that your panel’s mood isn’t impacted by tiredness. Be aware of the different types of question, what they can be used for and how an interviewee may respond to them.

Expand the section below to find out more: 

In the brief video below, intercultural coach Sally Walker discusses practical tips for interviews in multicultural settings. 

Development: ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’ is a common interview question, but what are you looking for with this question and what can you do with that knowledge? Make a note of how each applicant responds to this question. Their answer may provide a starting point for career discussions when they start with you and can allow you to start considering their needs and the opportunities they might have in advance of their arrival. 

Post interview

After the interview comes the decision and offer. As with all stages of the postdoc recruitment process, the responsibility to endure this is fair, transparent and inclusive is often left up to you as PI. In the majority of cases

‘postdoc hiring happens at the discretion of PIs, and they are hardly held accountable for their hiring decisions.’ 

Herschberg et al. 2018

Deciding: After all interviews are complete, provide the panel with time to reflect individually on the candidates without pressuring them with group think. When deciding, critically evaluate your reasoning and try to base decisions on the criteria rather than a ‘gut feeling’. You might not find a candidate who has everything – work out what matters for your project and what doesn’t. 

I have also learnt that you can’t teach ambition or motivation, but you can teach skills.’

Hill 2022

Avoid biases: Be aware of your own unconscious biases to ensure the decision process is fair. The profile of the ‘ideal postdoc’ is sometimes described as “someone who gives total priority to work and has no outside interests and responsibilities” but staff wellbeing aside, this can act as an exclusionary mechanism in recruitment. For example, studies show that this constructed ‘ideal’ is gendered, encompassing masculine characteristics and therefore women academics are expected not to fit the ideal (Herschberg et al. 2018).

‘Those from marginalized backgrounds face extra hurdles because of undue bias in faculty hiring.

Landhuis 2023

For all candidates: It is good interview practice to get back to all candidates within a week of the final interview, if possible, and to provide constructive feedback to all without them having to ask. You may also wish to have a mechanism for gathering feedback from candidates to be able to improve the process in the future. 

For the successful candidate: Discovering you’ve been successful via a phone call or email is a great feeling after the stress of the application and interview process. But for most postdocs little can be done until they’ve received their contract. Try to work with your HR department to ensure that the successful candidate gets their contract within two weeks. In addition to reassuring them about their position, for those relocating this means that they’re able to start planning their move or even obtaining a visa if necessary.  

Negotiation: You might find that when you make an offer there is a period of negotiation, over salary, working patterns or other issues. Be aware of what is and isn’t negotiable for your project – do they need to travel, does the research require that they need to be on site most days? Are there any additional development opportunities you can offer to help with the negotiation? Whilst uncommon within academia, negotiations over job offers still do occur and your HR department may be able to provide you with advice or support.  

Finding the right postdoc 

Most postdoc positions are funded through grant applications where there is often little time between being told that your application was successful and the project itself starting. 

This time pressure means that recruitment of postdocs is often organised in a hasty and informal manner, with PIs focussing on the short-term: a postdoc who can start quickly, do the job and is likely to stay for the duration of the project (Herschberg et al. 2018). 

‘It’s important to remember that looking for a postdoc to join your lab goes beyond research. We are training future leaders.’

Hill 2022

This sacrifice of quality for low-risk availability means that the selected candidate might not be the best long-term option, for you or your postdoc.  

‘PIs tend to select an ‘ideal’ type postdoc who is value-added to a project, rather than someone who they evaluate from a broader perspective, as someone who is deemed suitable for a further career in academia. As a result, the postdoc position seems to have become a job, rather than a career step.’

Herschberg et al. 2018

If the recruitment process hasn’t resulted in a postdoc you are confident in, then it’s perfectly ok to advertise the role again. Whilst the time pressure of a project is an important consideration, having somebody that is not that interested in the project, or is just not a good fit, does not benefit anyone (Hill 2022). 

“Better to have nobody in post than somebody who is not able to perform well enough.

Reader in Infectious Diseases, University of Liverpool

And finally 

At the end of the recruitment process perform a post evaluation to establish what worked, what didn’t work, and what changes might need to be put in place for the next recruitment cycle. 


Herschberg, C., Benschop, Y. & van den Brink, M. 2018. Precarious postdocs: A comparative study on recruitment and selection of early-career researchers. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 34(4), pp303-310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scaman.2018.10.001  

Hill, C. 2022. A lab leader’s guide to hiring a postdoc. Nature, 607, 624-625.  https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01729-5  

Landhuis, E. 2023. To diversify the scientific workforce, postdoc recruitment needs a rethink. Nature 618, 201-203. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-01740-4  

N8 Centre of Excellence in Computationally Intensive Research. 2022. EDI Recruitment Checklist. Accessed 12/06/2023 https://n8cir.org.uk/documents/140/2022_05_09_recrtuitment_checklist_K3EWMHP.pdf  

NERC. 2022. NERC best practice principles in doctoral recruitment. Accessed 12/06/2023 https://www.ukri.org/publications/nerc-best-practice-principles-in-doctoral-recruitment/  

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