How do I get Started in Postdoctoral Research?

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  • Written By: Darlene Goodman
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Getting started in postdoctoral research typically requires an individual to be appointed to a specialized research associate program, often called a postdoc. Many universities around the world offer postdocs to students in the humanities and sciences. These positions are usually awarded only to students who have finished a doctoral degree or equivalent program. These are generally competitive positions, especially in larger schools or programs with larger budgets.

Doctoral students in their last years of study may wish to begin working toward getting a postdoctoral research position after they receive their PhD. The sciences offer many research-based postdocs, while the humanities typically mix research and teaching in their postdoctoral programs. Beginning the search and application process early may help a candidate have a better chance of getting the type of position he or she wants.

One of the most important steps in obtaining a postdoctoral research position is to establish a research focus. Nearly all applicants are required to either propose the direction their research will take or at least clearly describe their research interests. A unique and feasible research idea may give a candidate an advantage in securing a postdoc.

Being published during a PhD program may also be an important step toward postdoctoral research. The postdoc applicants who have published original research in scholarly journals will typically have a better chance of getting a position than those who have not. It may even be helpful to be published in the desired field of study.


Generally, postdoctoral research positions are most easily obtained through word of mouth referrals. Students who wish to find a postdoc after they receive their PhD should typically contact their faculty advisors, department chairs, or university career counselors to help them find open positions. Networking at conferences and seminars may also help students find out about possible positions. A personal referral from a trusted faculty member can go a long way in securing a research job.

Referrals are not the only way to find a postdoc. Several websites and postdoctoral research organizations such as the National Postdoctoral Association in the United States provide searchable databases of available postdocs. Also, most universities list open positions on their websites. It is usually good for a candidate to apply to more than one position, so even students with strong referrals may wish to search online for openings.

Most applications for a postdoc include a curriculum vitae detailing all academic and professional experience, a list of publications, and a research proposal. Also, three or more faculty reference letters are usually required. Many applicants may wish to send hardcopy examples of their published works.



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