Before you accept a postdoctoral fellowship, you should ask about the salary. While salary should not be the only factor in your decision, you still need to put food on the table while you're building your career. Be sure to ask how long your salary will be guaranteed for; this depends on the length of the grant that your salary comes from. Ask if you'll have the opportunity to apply for more funding, or if you'll be required to apply for your own grants to fund your salary in the future. Postdoc salaries vary depending on your field of study and the type of job, so comparing the offers you get to each other is your best bet. Remember to research the cost of living in the area of the postdoc when you compare salary offers, since some regions are more expensive to live in than others.
Be sure to ask about health insurance benefits, as well. Most postdocs include health insurance for the postdoctoral fellow, and slightly fewer also offer coverage for the postdoc's dependents. Other benefits that some postdoctoral fellowships offer include disability insurance, life insurance, retirement plans, sick leave and paid vacation, and child care [source: Sigma Xi Postdoc Survey]. Think about which benefits are most important to you, and make sure you understand the benefits package before you make your choice.
Research experience can vary wildly between postdoctoral fellowships, and the experience you gain can have a huge impact on the rest of your career. Talk to current and former postdocs about their experiences in the lab, and ask them if they would recommend the lab to a friend. Many people won't offer criticism of their own, but most will give an honest answer if you ask them. Another way to find out about the opportunities postdocs have in a lab is to research the lab's publication history. Were previous fellows the first author on many of the lab's publications? Finding out will help give you a good understanding of the research opportunities available to postdocs in that lab.
Since a major purpose of a postdoctoral fellowship is to make important professional contacts, it's a good idea to find out what kind of networking opportunities you'll have. Find out if your lab will sponsor your membership in important professional organizations and your participation in conferences. Some research groups will pay for you to travel to conferences, while others will not.
Choosing the right postdoctoral fellowship will help send you on your way to a lucrative, productive career. For lots more information on paying for school, see the links on the next page.