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Applying for a Postdoc in the Humanities or Social Sciences

Why Apply for a Postdoc?

Postdoctoral fellowships—temporary positions that allow graduates to strengthen their research and/or teaching portfolios before going on the market as stronger candidates—are becoming more and more common in the humanities and social sciences. Typically lasting between one and three years, postdocs sometimes carry lighter teaching loads than faculty positions do. Fellows thus have time to advance their research agenda. For most job candidates, applying for a postdoc is a good option for someone who did not secure a tenure-track job that year. At the same time, some postdocs are themselves very competitive (e.g., the University of Chicago Society of Fellows and Princeton University’s Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts).

Finding a Postdoc

Most postdoctoral opportunities will be published as part of your professional association’s job list. You can also find listings in The Chronicle and through other online resources, such as the Academic Jobs Wiki and H-Net. Additionally, the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship Program has interesting postdoc opportunities for PhDs interested in fields such as the digital humanities and data curation.

Some Other Considerations

Before accepting a postdoc, think about whether or not it will serve as a good stepping stone in helping you achieve your professional goals. For example:

  • Will the position involve an independent research project that will strengthen your CV?
  • Will the teaching requirements prevent you from making progress in your research?

Just as you’d tailor your tenure-track job applications to suit the needs of teaching versus research institutions, you should frame your postdoc applications so that you describe your work in a way that falls in line with the mission of the postdoc. And although the postdoc position can be useful in providing you the opportunity to focus on your own research, you’ll also want to emphasize in you application how you will contribute to the institution’s scholarly community.

Additional Resources

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