How difficult is it, really, to get a post-doctoral fellowship? I'm kind of panicking about it, so any reassurance would be helpful; that said, it would also be helpful to know if this is a totally unrealistic pipe-dream at this point, so I can start to think about other options.
posted by UniversityNomad to Education (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm starting my second year of a three-year PhD program, in England (it's so short because it's only research, not courses; England's PhD programs are generally like this). I'm in the humanities. I realize that especially because of the recession, it's becoming almost impossible to get a tenure-track academic job directly from the PhD - especially with a UK PhD. I had hoped that it would be reasonably feasible to get a postdoc or two instead, so that I could work on building up my publications list and teaching experience for several years, and then try for permanent positions. However I just had a chat with an academic in my field (not my supervisor) who said that many humanities postdoc positions now have over a hundred qualified applicants per place applying for them (and sometimes upwards of three hundred qualified applicants per place), since there's a huge pile-up of recently-minted PhDs who can't find tenure-track jobs, and postdocs are now almost as hard to get as actual faculty positions.
I've already been stressed about my PhD, because my research is going more slowly than I had hoped, because the archival stuff that I've been digging through has had far less relevant material than I had expected. I'm having a bit of a panic about this. I only have three years of funding, and the whole process is giving me huge anxiety. I had planned to apply for some first postdocs next summer (the ones you don't actually need the degree in hand yet for, so Oxbridge JRFs, the Harvard Society of Fellows, and any others of that kind); if I got one, this would give me fourth-year funding as I finish writing, which I really need. If post-docs actually are so competitive to get, however, I suppose I need to reckon with the serious possibility that I may not get one, which is really making me panic. I don't want to stress out about this to my supervisor, because I don't want to worry him, and I feel like I'm probably the only grad student of his who's panicking, both about my work about about fourth year funding and post-docs, and I don't want my supervisor to think that I'm incompetent (honestly, I'm starting to think I really may be) or don't have it together (I'm not sure I do), or that I'm That Girl Who Panics (and clearly, I am).
So, my question for Metafilter is this: How difficult are post-docs to get right now (in the humanities)? I believe I have good/excellent references, and I'm at a top school for my doctorate (Oxbridge), and all of my previous degrees have been from schools generally regarded as comparable to it in reputation. My supervisor is still young but pretty well-known and well-respected in my field already, although there's a bit of a ghettoization of British academia in my subject which means that my supervisor/department may have fewer connections to American academics in my subject than would be preferable. I've won a number of major scholarships, including several generous fully-funded scholarships for my PhD (doctoral funding isn't automatic in the UK, so not everyone is funded). I currently don't have any publications, which I think is my biggest problem: I switched subjects for my PhD, and I've only really been doing this subject for one year, so I'm starting from behind, which really in retrospect probably wasn't wise. I will have given one seminar paper (and maybe a paper at an international conference) by next early autumn, when I was hoping to apply for JRFs etc.; by that point, I will also have published a couple of book reviews, and possibly a 25-30 page (single-authored) article accepted for publication (maybe two, if things go really well, but I'm not banking on it). If I wait another year to apply, I'll probably have about four book reviews published, and hopefully definitely two articles, and possibly a third shorter one. I'm planning to apply for all of the post-docs that I see advertised, both in the US and the UK. I'd be curious about any thoughts about how difficult it is to get post-docs, and how likely it is that I personally might get one. Are they easier or harder to get in the US or the UK (or farther afield, like Australia - I'm willing to apply anywhere). What else specifically should I do to improve my chances? What's most important - publications, or something else? I'd also like to hear any comments of this nature on tenure-track jobs in the humanities. I'd love reassurance, but please tell it like it is, because if I need to be thinking about a different non-academic direction to go next, I'd prefer to know now.