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Tips on applying for postdocs

Atualizado: 30 de jun. de 2023

Hi everyone! Today I'm here to give you a few tips that were useful to me when applying for postdocs. I started to prepare myself and write my documents for jobs by June of 2022 and accepted a final offer from Durham University by February of 2023. Since the whole process is still fresh in my mind, I decided to write a few tips that can be useful to you and to my future self.

Durham University. Credit: Alamy

Documents you will probably need:

Different places will ask you different documents, so pay attention to that! It's also possible that they will ask you different specifications for each document. You have to be very careful with each application. Here I'll talk about the documents people generally ask and give tips about them.

1) CV.

what it is: the curriculum vitae (CV) is a document with your education, experiences, talks, presentation in conferences, awards etc. You can find easily many templates using the overleaf website.

what you need to know: generally this document should have ~2 pages. This is not mandatory, but in general people take a few minutes (or seconds) looking at this document, so it should be concise. Some places can state a maximum number of pages. You can use bold font in a few lines to highlight the most important content.

2) Publication list.

what it is: in this document you will give information about the papers you already published or at least submitted to a journal. Give title, authors, journal, and info about the publication.

what you need to know: this is very important. Your chances of getting a postdoc will increase a lot if you have many publications. Recently, the job market is saturated and very competitive. Of course the content of the papers matters, but numbers will count too. This has been hotly debated, but in general, at this point, everyone agrees that the number of papers you have published matters.

3) Research statement.

what it is: here you will describe your past and present research, and plans for the future.

what you need to know: generally it has between 1-4 pages. You must tailor this document thinking about each position. Each postdoctoral job will have a possible different project associated, so you have to write this document with that in mind. This document is not only about Science, it's about YOU. You have to cite your connections with collaborations, your technical experiences in the context of your past research, your interests etc. Also, you should cite the professors/doctors/people you would like to work with and connect your ideas with the University/department you are applying for.

4) Cover letter.

what it is: this is a short letter to present your whole application.

what you need to know: in the cover letter you will mention which job you are applying for, why you are applying for it, and why you are a good fit for the position. Generally, it only has one page. A few jobs can ask you to sign this letter. DO NOT forget to change the name of the University and professor in the beginning of the letter. Pay attention to these details, this is VERY important.

5) 2/3 recommendation letters.

what it is: these are letters written by your supervisor and collaborators. In this letter, they will talk about you.

what you need to know: when asking a professor to write a letter for you, give them material to remind them what you have done so far. You can send them your CV, website and other details you consider important. This will make their life easier and your letter will have more details that they possibly did not remember at that point for some reason. Also, share with them a spreadsheet, so they have all the information about your application process. I will talk more about the spreadsheet below in the general tips.

6) Diversity/teaching statement.

what it is: this is a document to share your teaching/outreach experience as well as what you have done to make the academic environment more diverse.

what you need to know: generally, this document has one page. Try to give practical examples of things you have done to improve the university environment, your experience with students and science outreach.

General tips:

1) Start early, writing documents will take a long time. I had an existential crisis writing my cover letter, and for me it was really hard to write it. The most difficult one is the research statement, give yourself a long time to think about these documents. Most jobs are announced between September-January, so be prepared by the end of August.

2) Send emails. Have you seen a position that you really like? Send the professor an email! This can be very time consuming, but you will show interest in the position, and possibly get more information about the project. This will help you to write your cover letter and research statement! The more information, the better.

3) Use a spreadsheet to organise all the information. I created this spreadsheet, so I could have all the information in one place. I shared this spreadsheet with the professors that accepted to write my recommendation letters, so they could add an "OK" after sending it.

4) Search about the place/university/department. You have to connect the place with your interests in your documents. Also, if you get an interview, you will have to discuss why you want to go to that specific place.

5) Read papers related to the project/papers published by the professor that is offering the position. This is VERY important! You will have to connect your work with the work that has been done by the professor that is offering the job.

6) Tailor your application as much as you can. It is OK to have a standard cover letter/research statement, but YOU HAVE to change this document before sending for each position. You have to think and write about the specific project and why you fit that place. It is very easy to detect a "standard document" and in their eyes this can mean that you are not interested enough in the position to tailor it. So take some time to think about each one.

7) Try to show independence. They do not want a student, they want an independent researcher. You have to give them proof that you can do independent research.

8) Check not only the salary, but also cost of living. Also negotiate a few things. Before accepting an offer, compare cons and pros of each position. The salary can be higher in one place compared to the other, but the cost of living can be higher as well. There are many websites that you can use to compare that. You can negotiate travel grants, relocation expenses, holidays, starting date etc.

9) Be prepared for Science questions in the interview. They can ask you main open questions in your field or general physics questions. Be prepared to answer those.

10) "The professor is in: the essential guide to turning your PhD into a job". This book was really helpful. Although I don't agree with everything in it, and the book is for another field of research (not astronomy), there are many useful tips in it. Read it, but also be critical.

I hope this was helpful!

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