What is a postdoc?

A postdoc is a short-term apprenticeship position with a strong research focus. Typically, science and engineering students hold postdoc positions following completion of a Ph.D. Appointments are usually full-time, last for 1-5 years, and are supervised by a mentor known as a “primary investigator,” or “PI.” A postdoc position is a training step in your career, so it’s important to keep your entire career plan in mind as you make decisions.

How do I find a postdoc?

Searching for a postdoc takes time, research, and relationship building. It is important to find a postdoc that will enable you to do research in your area of interest. Here are a few ways that students typically find postdoc positions:

  • National postings: Positions are advertised nationally and posted online in many places. Check your professional society’s job listing as well as online sources such as sciencecareers.org and phds.org for announcements about postdoc openings. For more links, see the “Sources for Position Listings” section in the Academic Job Search Guide (PDF).
  • Networking through others: Most students find a postdoc through networking. Ask members of your dissertation committee for the names of professors whose work might be a good fit for your research interests and goals. If any researchers in your field will be speaking on campus, try to go to the presentation and arrange to meet with them later.
  • Networking on your own: You should also do some preparation on your own. Decide whose papers you find most interesting, or which laboratories seem to be doing the most exciting work. Reach out to those potential advisers, even if you don’t have a direct connection to them. This can be as simple as sending an email (with your attached CV) and explaining why you would be a good fit in the professor’s lab.

Choosing your primary investigator

Finding a mentor, or PI, who will be a good fit for your research goals is just as important as finding a department where you enjoy would working and teaching. Here are some things to consider:

  • Is this person active in his/her field?
  • What are current postdocs are working on? Would this work strengthen your CV?
  • Does this person provide good mentoring opportunities?
  • Is the culture of the work environment a good fit for you?
  • Does the funding seem stable?

Consider contacting past and current postdocs of this mentor to gain more insight into the position.