What's the best way to search for a good post-doc position?
June 21, 2013 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I am 12-18 months from defending my dissertation. How do I find the best opportunities for post-doc positions?
posted by SarahBellum to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What field of research, and what geographical location?
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2013

The following information would be helpful:
  • What is your subject and dissertation topic?
  • Where would you like to work?
  • Where are you?
  • What subject would you like to work on for your postdoc?
In general your adviser's suggestions should be far more useful than anything else.
posted by grouse at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2013

What field are you in? Are you hoping to do something similar to your dissertation work, or looking for something new? Are you geographically restricted? Are you coming from a highly-regarded institution, or hoping to level up? Have you published well and do you expect to be a competitive candidate? What do you intend to do after your postdoc?

There are lots of answers to your question depending on the details.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:32 AM on June 21, 2013

It depends a lot on the specifics of what you're looking for. The most generally-applicable advice I can give is to cast a wide net.

If you're looking to stay in a similar field, you probably already are familiar with the active names in your subspecialty. Look through your references for interesting research. Contact those PIs, aiming a bit higher or lower depending on who you're currently working with, and what your publication record will be.

Talk to your advisor about people in the field that he or she thinks you'd work well with. Talk to students that have finished before you and ask the same question.

If a particular geographic location is really important, look for the universities in that area and find the relevant departments, trawling for reasonable candidates.

Depending on your field, you may also want to check out the national labs, which usually have job positions actually posted somewhere, compared to an average PI.

Check out the relevant society magazine; jobs are sometimes posted there. If your lab is part of any multi-site center, there may be contact people at other centers that could put the word out as well.

(My personal story: I was hoping to get something that wasn't a typical postdoc. Had some nibbles via my PI and looking at the typical job-listing websites, though listings are few and far between there. Got a few preliminary interviews through my university that went nowhere. I looked at job listings for every university and science museum that seemed plausible. The job I got, I found by looking at all the websites of centers with similar NSF funding to what I had. One of them had a job posting that was closing in 48 hours. Super lucky, but I definitely had the feeling that I'd made me own luck there.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:46 AM on June 21, 2013

I am assuming you are in the sciences. Your first resource should be your advisor. Hopefully your relationship with him is good enough that he would be willing to keep you on as a postdoc for a year or so. He should also know of other colleagues/professors in your field who are looking for postdocs with your expertise.

But also, look at the ads in the back of journals in your field looking for postdocs. This is actually a more fertile source of jobs than you would think.
posted by deanc at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2013

This really varies. Talk to your advisor and committee and grad advisor to start.

In my field, academic jobs are posted August-November, more or less, and interviews are November-February, more or less. Postdocs often come later in the season.

Where to look? Disciplinary listserv, Chronicle, HigherEdJobs, and more. And jobs wikis.

A lot of this stuff is actually done at conferences though - hob knobbing, etc.
posted by k8t at 8:12 AM on June 21, 2013

Conferences and your advisors' networks are probably your best bets. Make it a point, when you go to meetings, to pick someone interesting to talk to at each lunch/break. Bring cards if you have them, even the cheap print-your-own or moo cards are a great idea. If they've given a talk or poster, you have something to talk about. Try to have a poster of your own, a talk if that's possible. Industry folks, in particular, use poster sessions as recruiting fairs. Be there during your assigned time!

If people are looking for post-docs, they may mention it to you if they're fishing, but it doesn't hurt to sound out friendly folks at conferences if they know of any opportunities (don't ask directly, that's kind of pushy; ask if they know of any openings). It's totally ok in my field for people to also ask by email with collaborators or other profs/scientists/industry folks they know.

One thing which will greatly help you is to secure your own funding. National granting bodies often have programs for post-docs and fellowships. If you can go to a company or a lab with your stipend already in hand, you will likely have your pick of options. Industrial fellowships tend to be specific, but don't be afraid to initiate that yourself, i.e. approach them first with the intent of putting in for a fellowship. Good companies will jump at someone with the initiative to approach them with not just a research plan, but a funding plan too.

I have seen some people have success with responses to advertized positions in magazines, but be warned that those are often pro forma. They may well have a candidate in mind already and are advertising to meet some managerial requirement. By far, the candidates I know who get fellowships and post-docs in the sciences and engineering fields do so a) through connections at conferences, b) through their networks of collaborators putting the word out, or c) by focused activity to win fellowship/placement with an industrial or government lab.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry, this applies mostly to STEM jobs. My apologies if this is not the case.
posted by bonehead at 9:19 AM on June 21, 2013

It's a fairly general question, so I will give a general answer: networking. Approach and contact as many people as possible (without being pushy or obnoxious, of course). Let your colleagues and friends know what kind of thing you're looking for and ask them if they have any good ideas for people or groups to contact. As tchemgrrl said, cast a wide net. This is what conferences are for. Read Philip Agre's Networking on the Network (free online) if you feel you need more guidance on how to do this kind of thing.
posted by pont at 9:54 AM on June 21, 2013

Nthing "Networking."

Anecdotally, starting from grad school, every position I got except for my current (permanent faculty) job, I had some networking connection to the person who hired me. My undergrad adviser went to (and was still in contact with) the graduate department I went to. For my first postdoc, the main person who hired me was a (casual) collaborator with my grad school adviser. For my second postdoc, I went to a place where I had a couple of very close research collaborators (I wasn't directly hired by them, but I have to imagine it helped). I don't have any data that these connections affected their decision directly, but I have to imagine it at least made them give my file a closer look.

If you were a grad student in my field (Astronomy), I would give you the following specific advice: Give talks at conferences (including the thesis talk at the AAS), talk to as many people at those conferences as possible, talk to your adviser and members of your committee about their possible connections/collaborators.

One of the most important things that many successful grad students do in my field is to go around to different departments and give colloquia (or other talks) - a "roadshow," basically. If you have friends/collaborators in those departments, great, but otherwise I would just cold-email an appropriate faculty member and say, "I'm going to be in the area in September; I was wondering if I could come in and give a talk." This serves the purpose of getting your name out there (you never know who is going to be on the review panel for national fellowships), gives you practice giving talks, and the visit in general is a great time to meet people.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:36 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Additional info, since the answer seems to be, "It depends," which we all know. I am an interdisciplinary researcher (behavioral economics) at a lower-tired school.

I want to level up. I also have a child who needs to stay close to her father, so geography is a consideration. Major cities and research centers are ideal due to both parents needing to find work in the same region.

My committee co-chairs are an economist and a social psychologist. There are no behavioral economists per-se at my institution. I am starting to present at conferences as a way to get my ideas and papers seen by the behavioral economics community, but I am on my own in terms of networking in this specific field.

I would be happy as a researcher in either the public or private sector, or a teacher.

I am hoping to find what these 'typical' sites you all are referring to are. Is there a clearinghouse for post-docs that I don't know of or a job-search site for social scientists specifically?
posted by SarahBellum at 7:17 PM on June 24, 2013

>Is there a clearinghouse for post-docs that I don't know of or a job-search site for social scientists specifically?

No, when I said "typical" I meant like monster.com or careerbuilder or usajobs.gov if you're in the US. There are not a lot of useful listings in there (probably even fewer in the social sciences), but they did give me something to do, and gave me a better sense of what a hiring committee might be looking for. There were also a few job-search sites specific to my field, though not much more useful, that I found by searching "[field] jobs".

Even if they're not in your field, the people on your committee might have some relevant advice. The best advice I got was from the person on my committee who was farthest from my actual field, because he is a social person with a diverse group of colleagues. I'd still recommend talking to them, if you haven't already.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:52 AM on June 25, 2013

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