First, it is usually customary when you write to someone for a postdoc
that the first contact will be made by telephone. When a prospective advisor
calls it is usually to make initial contact and to see what your interests are
and how you will fit in the lab. If it is at an inappropriate time, you can
always chat briefly and say you will call back at another time. If the person
is nice, they will usually ask if you have time to speak first. Sometimes, a
person will respond by writing to you first and sending a packet of reprints.
It is then up to you to make initial contact. Now, I would include an e-mail
address if you have one, as if the P.I. is into using e-mail they may be another
way contact can be made.
It also depends whether you are writing to the person because they advertised
that they have a postdoc position available, or whether you are writing to the
person cold because you are interested in their work. If the person has
advertised a position, they will ususally call because it means they have
funding and a project and are anxious to have someone begin this work in the
lab. If you write to someone cold, they probably will answer by writing because
they may not have funding and are not looking for someone to fill a position
in their lab.
Another thing to think about is funding. There are basically 2 types of
postdocs- one, where you are included on a P.I.'s grant, and one where you
must compete for your own funding- NIH,NSF, American Cancer Society, Jane
Coffin, etcetera postdoctoral fellowship. Some P.I.s will only provide funding
for a very brief period of time and then expect the postdoctoral fellow to
own funding. One thing to ask people in the lab was how long they were funded
and whether it was expected that they get their own funding. Also, it is
certainly appropriate to ask what became of previous postdocs. If you are going
to be included in the P.I.s grant ask to see a copy of the grant-find out how
long the grant is funded for and what the goals of the project are.
I would not ask about authorship: This should be obvious from a list of
the P.I.s previous publications.
About taking a project with you...if you were doing work on the P.I.s
grant, it is inappropriate to take the project with you unless you somehow
put your own spin on it, or the P.I.s lab is not continuing work in that
area. If you have written your own postdoctoral grant then it is
certainly appropriate for you to take the project with you.
Hope this helps,