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Applying for a Post-doc

The Opportunity to Do a Post-doc

When you finish your Ph.D. you may want to apply for a post-doc. This is a step taken by an increasing number of researchers before looking for a lecturing or research position, especially in certain disciplines (like social and political sciences). Post-doc scholarships usually allow Ph.D. holders to start working seriously on their first publications (monograph, articles) and start building a reputation in their own discipline and academic circles.

Below you will find some frequently asked questions regarding post-docs. There is no single rule to follow when applying for a post-doc. Therefore, keep in mind that what we give here are general guidelines that you need to adjust to your specific case.


What is a Post-doc for?

Post-docs are important because they give young researchers the opportunity to start publishing and make themselves and their work known to the academic community. Publications are increasingly important to establishing one's academic reputation. A book and some good articles will definitely increase your chances of getting a good job in academia and starting a solid career.


How Long is a Post-doc?

Usually one or two years. Some institutions offer longer post-docs related to the realization of a larger research project already within the institution. In some universities, like Oxford, for example, post-docs are offered for a four-year term and are the equivalent of a tenure track position (only with a lighter teaching load and no definitive commitment on the part of the university).


Where Can I do a Post-doc?

Both national universities and international research centres have post-doc programmes. Post-docs can be centre-specific, meaning that they are placed within a pre-defined institution (usually the funding institution). Some others, as in the case of Marie Curie fellowships, can be located in any institution interested in a researcher's project (following an agreement between the researcher and the institution).

The Max Weber Programme is an international post-doc programme based in the EUI. It offers scholarships in the social sciences and humanities in a unique multi-disciplinary academic context. The most salient feature of the programme is that it not only it allows researchers to carry out their own projects but also provides them with training related to job interviews and applications, requests for funding, teaching skills, internet based courses and e-learning.

Click here for more information on the programme and the application procedure.

Not all countries offer formal post-doc scholarships. In most cases, you will have to search for equivalent positions.

See the ACO country reports for more information and links to research funding institutions.

Universities offer post-docs because they want to learn from young researchers. You will be expected not only to work on your research but also to interact with researchers already inside the institution both formally and informally, and to increase the institution's knowledge and expertise in a certain area of study.

In order to increase the chances of success of your application, you should look for those institutions with which you share some research issues or interests. Not only will that institution be more "receptive" with respect to your application, but you will also be sure that you will find all the resources you need to further develop your research interests.


What Should I Put in My Application?

The elements and structure of the post-doc application will probably be outlined by the institution offering post-docs scholarships. Pay attention to what that institution wants to know in the proposal. In general your application should begin with an account of the research that you have done so far, and obviously of your Ph.D.

You should make clear in 2-3 pages what you want to research during the post-doc. You may be asked to specify the methodology of your research. If necessary, explain how much time you will need to get acquainted with new literature. In any case, try to be as specific and focused as possible to show that you have a project on which you can actually work during the post-doc.

You should clarify what the outcome of your research will be with respect to publications. These will usually be your first book and a couple of articles. Balance the number of publications that you plan to do with the amount of research that you will need to do and the actual duration of the post-doc: too broad plans or a long list of expected publications may be considered unrealistic by the funding institution and undermine your application.

It may help to include statements on the contributions you want to give to your hosting institution concerning, for example, presentations of your research or lectures.


What Research Projects Should I Include in My Application?

Your first project will normally be the publication of your first book, which will mean revising your doctoral thesis (see turning your PhD into a book)

You will also be expected to work on papers or articles, which you will also be able to draw from your thesis. As a topic you may suggest a revised chapter or section of your thesis, or some issue that popped up during your previous research and that was not developed in your Ph.D.

In deciding what specific topics you want to deal with, consider also the specific interests of your host university or research centre. Surf the institution's webpage for information on this.

It is very important that you suggest interesting topics: remember that the people in the institution offering the post-doc want to know something new within a discipline, not something that is already there. Concentrate on the academic and innovative potential of your past researches.


What About My CV?

As a young academic, you are not expected to have a strong CV to support your application. Remember that post-docs are to allow you to start publishing. Competences such as previous teaching or professional experience will not normally be crucial for a successful application.

However, do stress your research potential in your CV. A candidate's research potential is normally shown by the quality of the Ph.D., reference letters, statements concerning past and present researchers, and the capacity to organise conferences (see November 2007 MWP-ACO conference on academic careers). For example, you should include your Ph.D. supervisor among your referees.

International academic mobility is usually an asset, especially if you are applying for a post-doc in an international research centre or environment. Your CV should provide all possible evidence of your past mobility (exchanges, scholarships, etc.). 

Page last updated on 18 August 2017

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