How to get a postdoc position in the social sciences
April 25, 2011 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in potentially pursuing a postdoc and have no idea how the process works! I'm completing my PhD in the social sciences in Canada and wondering how one goes about getting these positions and if I can secure my own funding, can I go anywhere?

I realize this question may sound very ignorant and uneducated. I'm coming from a family that barely has completed community college and I've luckily managed to get myself to a PhD in the social sciences while not even knowing what a masters was several years ago!

Anyway, I'm about a year away from completion (a year and 4-6 months to be more exact) and I was told by a professor in my department I should be looking for a postdoc position if I ever want to find a tenured job in a university here in Canada. He suggested I find the person I'd like to work with, secure funding and go do it! However, after much internet searching I have no idea how to do what he's told me. I plan on making an appointment with my supervisor to discuss these things, I'd just like to have a bit of a background before having these conversations so that I don't look as if I have no idea what she's talking about.

The person I'd like to potentially work with is in the United States (U. of Hawaii Manoa) and there's another I'm interested in here in Canada (at U of Toronto).

PS. I've heard many apply for funding from outside sources and take those to their desired university or others fund these positions by teaching a few courses. I've been saving for a few years and have savings if I needed to use them.

PPS. I also have a partner completing an undergrad. Is it likely they would take us both as a 2-for-1 deal? Meaning that they'd perhaps be accepted into their undergrad program or would they apply with everyone else? I've heard that sometimes profs get jobs on the condition that their partner could get a position as well. I wasn't sure if there was anything similar with this sort of scenario. We also have no issue moving anywhere... I'm 25 and they're 28 so we're both young with no dependents.

Thanks again and I'm sorry my thoughts are so scattered and all over the place!
posted by DorothySmith to Education (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Google Academic Jobs wiki and look under postdocs. There is a humanities and social science postdoc wiki for sure.

Also subscribe to your discipline's association listservs. Postdocs are often listed on there.

I doubt that any postdoc position would let your partner transfer with special preference.

In some fields it is standard to do a postdoc. In others it isn't.
posted by k8t at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2011

I am in natural & engineering sciences so I am familiar with the NSERC, but there appears to be an equivalent council for social sciences SSHRC. They have fellowships for postdocs. I have no idea how competitive these are. If an advisor wants to have you work with them, they may be helpful in suggesting other funding sources (perhaps more related to what research they do), maybe from industry or some not-for-profit organization.

As for the undergrad SO, I highly doubt that your postdoc position will help them get into an undergrad program. Usually the 2-body-problems are for finding a staff or faculty position (for the SO).
posted by bread-eater at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2011

Get someone in your program to walk you through this. It is completely normal not to know how it works. Even people who are from academic families would need help figuring out the process, since it's different in every field.

You may also want to post on the forums of the Chronicle of Higher Education, since there are active forums with lots of academics there who can give you advice specific to your field. (Again, funding sources and normal procedures will vary by field.)

In my humanities field, there is a centralized listing of every department that is offering a postdoc position, and you would apply for them just like any other academic job (letters of recommendation, sample of your written work, etc). I don't know how it works in your field, but that's why you should ask - either as your advisor for some more concrete direction about what steps to take, or ask an older grad student in your program, or ask the "placement director" of your program (if you have one, ask the department secretary).
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:08 PM on April 25, 2011

PPS. I also have a partner completing an undergrad. Is it likely they would take us both as a 2-for-1 deal?

I am a postdoc and I can confirm that there is no such thing. You two have to look separately for positions in the same town.

As for finding postdocs, I don't know much about the humanities but here is some general advice. Talk to recent grads and ask how they got postdocs. Are there postdocs in your department? Go to coffee with them and get advice specific to your field. Also, (a) are there specific people you'd like to work with in UH or U. Toronto? Or (b) did you just decide on those two because they are nice places to live?

If (a), then write to those people. They may have funds or can point you towards sources of funding that others have worked for other postdocs at those respective universities. Some sources of funding are university specific (although most are not).

In short, just talk to people in your field and take it from there.
posted by special-k at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2011

And I agree that it's unlikely a department would offer a job or special consideration to your SO. They might be able to help with immigration issues, for example if you're coming across the border for a job they might be able to help you figure out if SO qualifies for a work visa and what the conditions of that might be. (If you are a same-sex couple, and not legally married, I believe the immigration laws in the US are much less favorable to that than they are in Canada; worth looking into.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2011

sorry, just read the part where those two places have potential mentors.
posted by special-k at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2011

In Psychology and related fields, it seems as though many of the Post-docs are advertised on listservs, in addition to more formal ways, and these are generally announced with funding. This funding is generally coming from grant money to that particular researcher. However, if you secure your own funding you might be able to then go work in a lab related to the area of your proposal simply because they are willing to accept you as a promising student and they don't have to pony up the additional funds for you. (Of course, this doesn't mean that anyone could go anywhere with this, but if you've secured that level of funding you've generally shown some level of skill in the field). I've also seen post-docs worked out behind the scenes with a graduate who perhaps didn't land the big job they'd planned on, but had great potential and a major professor who could promote their students well.

I agree with most above that the chance of special consideration for your SO would be pretty slim, but I would think their chances of making it into that undergrad program as a transfer student would be better than most have of finding suitable graduate programs or jobs for the trailing s/o.

Also do definitely consider what kind of position you do want to have in the future, and look into whether a post-doc is really what you need to have for that kind of position. For instance, a major research university might necessitate it, whereas a teaching-focused college might not, or they might prefer a post-doc that has some degree of teaching rolled into it. Often in grad school the push is for research-focused positions only, but that's not the only game out there.
posted by bizzyb at 3:28 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm thank you for the advice.

Special-K: Yes, both schools have someone I'd like to work with with U of Hawaii at Manoa having the leading expert in my field (that's why I've chosen that location... the warm weather is just an added perk).

LobsterMitten: Yes, I was a bit worried about that because it is a same-sex partner. But I suppose she could just apply for the program of her choice and hope she gets in and then I think she could get a student visa whereas I'd get a work visa (I think).

Bread-Eater: Yes, you're right. SSHRC is the social science funding. I plan on applying for it in the fall. The only draw back is I don't have any publications under my belt and they're very competitive. My plan for the summer is to try to get a couple papers I've been working on in the process of getting published (I may be back later asking questions about that too! haha).

K8t: Thank you for the leads. I will check those out. :)
posted by DorothySmith at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2011

Bizzyb: Yeah, that's definitely something I have to consider as well. I got some teaching experience at a local community college here and I truthfully found it a bit dull. I think I'd like to teach at the university level... I'm not sure if I'd like to teach in a research intensive or a teaching facility, but I thought at this point I didn't want to close any doors and I'd aim high in case that's where I want to be. I feel like at some point I would get bored of solely teaching since my main drive in school is to learn as much as humanly possible... which incorporating research into that would enable me to keep learning new things. My main problem during the PhD is picking a topic b/c if I had the time and funds I'd research everything imaginable (socially anyway).
posted by DorothySmith at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2011

Here are last year's postdocs.
Some of them you need to apply for years in advanced, so read last year's carefully.

As I mentioned before, you probably want to find out if doing a postdoc before going tenure track is normal in your field. In my social science, it is pretty unusual.
posted by k8t at 4:53 PM on April 25, 2011

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