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Applying for a Postdoc in STEM Fields

Why Apply for a Postdoc?

For many new PhDs in the STEM fields, particularly the life sciences, a postdoctoral position is a required step along the way to a tenure-track professorship. For others, a postdoc may provide an opportunity to develop additional skills if a first foray into the academic job market was unsuccessful.

A postdoctoral appointment might provide you with:

  • A chance to move your current research in a new, innovative direction
  • A chance to build new skills, or even change fields
  • A chance to develop lab management skills in a new setting

Finding a Postdoc

How do you look for a postdoc? A good starting point is to talk with your adviser and/or committee members about labs that might be an interesting fit for your work—and how best to get in touch with the PI’s in those labs. Perhaps you’ve met someone who gave a talk in your program whose work was of interest to you or met someone at a conference; these are good ways to establish contacts with potential labs. Once you’ve identified a few labs that might be a good fit, reach out to the faculty member in those labs/departments with a brief and well-written email about why you are interested in working there, and attach your CV. Having a prior connection to a faculty member is one of the most effective ways of finding a postdoc. This is why networking is so important.

Where else might you look for a postdoc? Well, it is likely that your field’s professional association has a job posting service that may feature postdoctoral positions. Also, websites such as Science Careers and post information about open positions. Many institutions have a central website in which many postdoctoral positions are posted. This is fairly common in institutions with central offices that help postdocs manage their research and their career, e.g., Ohio StateStanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Some Other Considerations

It is always worthwhile to seek your own postdoctoral funding that you can bring with you to a lab. This is particularly true if you’ve already identified a mentor whose work is a good fit, and he or she is willing to work with you on your application. Both the GC library’s funding webpage and the GC’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs are useful resources for finding funding opportunities.

Before accepting a postdoc, ask yourself:

  • I am truly excited about research here?
  • Does this mentor seem like someone I can work with?
  • Will I be able to achieve my career goals here?
  • Do the other postdocs here seem relatively happy?

Chose your postdocs carefully so that it can help to position you well for your next step, be it in academe, industry, or beyond.

Additional Resources