Tips for Landing a Postdoc Position: Insights from Hiring Faculty Members

The postdoc application process can be confusing to navigate for many PhD students. Deciding on what institution is the best fit, how you can set yourself apart from other candidates, and even identifying what postdoc positions are available can be tricky. To help you navigate this process, I decided to get some perspectives from the other side of the hiring process by asking some Sié Center faculty members about their thoughts and recommendations regarding the whole the process.

Finding the Right Fit

Before you start emailing faculty and  submitting applications, Sié Center director Dr. Avant recommends that along with salary and research support that each position will offer, applicants should consider the term, location, and job responsibilities for the position in which they’re interested. Where would you be willing to move for a short period of time? (Postdocs, at least in the social sciences, are generally for 1-2 years.) Are the responsibilities compatible with what you want to do? What does the position require? (Most postdocs require some writing and research; some also require participation in activities or research.) Specifically, at the Sié Center Dr. Avant states that the faculty are looking for high quality research, but also for research that reflects a broad view of global security issues and is directed toward contemporary problems: “We are specifically looking for students who want to engage with global politics as well as study it.”

According to Dr. Kaplan, who was a postdoc for two years at Stanford and Princeton, the nature of postdocs varies widely across different schools—some positions are with individual faculty, while some are with broader departments, and others are attached to research centers or projects. A benefit of being attached to a particular project or center is being more closely tied to a research community, which can be helpful since postdocs can fall through the cracks between grad students and faculty, and may have trouble connecting with an academic community. However, he states that a trade-off (if one can term it that) to that attachment is that the center- or project-based postdocs may spend more time on group projects relative to their own research; but this can also be mutually beneficial, since group projects offer postdocs the opportunity to learn new skills and methods, and develop substantive areas of expertise.

Conducting Your Job Search

You should be ready to apply for a desired position approximately six months to a year beforehand. Dr. Avant recommends that students also start looking at postdoc positions they might be interested in before that period so they are ready to apply when the time comes. “From a practical perspective, it might be a good idea to apply for postdocs and jobs at the same time in order to manage your time more efficiently.” Sié Center postdoc, Dr. Kelsey Norman, applied widely for postdocs and jobs. She recommends letting other academics (in your department or elsewhere) know that you’re on the job market. “This can help you discover jobs that aren’t circulated widely enough, as well as aid in your ability to learn about opportunities as new position announcement get released.”

C.V.s and Publications

When updating your resume/CV make sure that it’s clear and jargon free. Dr. Avant states that “applicants who communicate clearly and take the time to think about what their audience will want to know are highly advantaged.” Now, in regard to publications, Dr. Sisk’s advice is to “publish, publish, publish.” He advises potential postdocs to thoughtfully weigh the short-term monetary benefits of adjunct teaching (which universities will always have a need for) with the gains (such as getting hired and promoted) against longer term trajectories that come from a focus on publishing. He states that while he “would never have a blanket advice of ‘don’t make money,’ postdocs will likely have less time to take material to publication once the teaching, committee service, and other obligations of assistant professorship crowd in. ” Dr. Avant supports Dr. Sisk’s recommendation, asserting that more and more students are publishing in graduate school, making it increasingly important for interested applicants to have publications. However, she also says that “a very interesting project and strong recommendations from esteemed faculty about the worth of the project can sometimes outweigh the publication component.”

Hopefully this is helpful as you start your postdoc search. If you have any suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments section!