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Applying for a PostDoc

Applying for a PostDoc is fairly similar to applying for a PhD. You will need to demonstrate that you have the research skills and interests to suit the fellowship or role you are interested in. This means that, as with a job, you must tailor your PostDoc application to the particular position you are applying for. Generally, most PostDoc opportunities are advertised between October and January.

This page explains what you’ll need to successfully apply for a PostDoc, including information on applications for different types of PostDoc positions.

You can search a range of PostDoc opportunities here.

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General requirements

It’s recommended that you start looking for a PostDoc early, usually up to a year before the position commences. If you are PhD student, then start looking for a PostDoc at the beginning of your final year.

Different institutions, organisations and companies will have specific criteria that they require a person to meet when applying for a PostDoc, and the application process will vary.

For example, some places may conduct phone interviews or expect you to give a presentation as part of the application, but others will not. With this in mind, the documents listed below are given as a general guideline for postdoctoral applications:

  • CV - A summary of your educational skills and publications. It is usually best to omit pre-university record and not to include too many publications ‘in preparation’ (focus on completed papers and similar achievements)
  • Cover letter - Briefly introduce yourself and outline your current position along with relevant skills and research achievements. As a PostDoc comes after a PhD , you should explain why your doctorate has prepared you for this position. This is also your chance to explain why you have chosen that organisation and how you and your research skills and interests would enhance their staff
  • Research proposal - If the PostDoc you are applying for allows scope for your own research objectives you should explain what these are. They should not be on the same subject as your PhD, but should be similar or related. You will probably be addressing two audiences, non-expert (admissions staff) and expert (academics and principal investigators), so explain the significance of your work clearly, but do provide some detail an expert will appreciate
  • Research statement - This is a more detailed overview of your research history and includes (but is not limited to) publications, talks attended and any conference presentations and posters that have been an outcome of your research
  • References - These are statements are from people who know you in a work-related setting, and can therefore recommend you for the job based on the qualifications you have shown to them. Usually two or three references are required. Good examples includes your supervisor or other well-known researchers you have collaborated with

University applications

When it comes to applying for a PostDoc through a university, the best practice is to get in touch with prospective supervisors or people within the department who share the same research interests as you. This way, you can ask directly about PostDoc positions and funding and many supervisors actually prefer this, as it shows that you are not just applying for a job based on the institution’s academic status.

You can browse a range of current PostDoc opportunities here on FindAPostDoc.

It is also a good idea to make use of the contacts you have already made in your field. Ask around and see if there are any vacancies they are aware of. This can also be useful if you are interested in an industry PostDoc, as many academics have contacts and collaborators with someone from industry.

In order to tailor your PostDoc application to a university, you need to let them know what attracts you to that particular university and department. What do they have to offer you that an industrial position or other university does not? What makes that university unique?

Use the resources available to you: ask your current PhD supervisor for help, read through the university website and go to department talks.

Conferences are also a great way to introduce yourself to people and make connections that may lead to future PostDocs. After all, academics from different institutions around the world, who all share your research interest, will all be in one room!

Sometimes, your PhD supervisor can invite you to stay on to do a PostDoc and, if that is what you want to do, you may be lucky and skip the long application process all together!

Industry applications

Obtaining a PostDoc position at an industrial company can be more competitive than university-based PostDocs. One reason for this is that PostDocs in industry are generally payed more than postdoctoral positions in academia, but this is not always the case. Some PostDoc appointments can be funded by the industry corporation, but the research is carried out at a university and time can be split between the two places.

Compared to university applications, where your academic work (i.e. your PhD) is the most important criteria, a CV for industry should focus on collaborative skills and what you can add to a professional research team.

Like any job application, it is good to do research on the company you are applying to work at. A deep understanding of the company’s products, place in the market and competitors needs to be shown throughout the application process. This will differ depending on where you want to work, but it is always worth getting advice from someone who either works at an industrial company, or has links to one.

Some companies advertise current vacancies around February and March, but this can vary. As well as the general requirements stated above, phone interviews, a presentation of your previous work and application fees may be more common for an industry PostDoc application.

Fellowship applications

A postdoctoral fellowship is a type of sponsorship awarded by universities or funding bodies (such as Research Councils) to individuals deemed capable and worthy of proposing their own research. Applicants for these positions are usually early-career academics already working at universities. You can usually apply for a fellowship at any time of the year. If you are applying for funding through UKRI, all applications are submitted via an online platform – Joint Electronic Submission System (Je-S).

The documents needed for a fellowship application differ slightly to an application for an industry or university PostDoc. As well as the documents mentioned above, you are also expected to have a clear plan for the work you propose to carry out. This involves outlining your research questions and problems, research methodology, a data management plan, the impact of your work and a justification of the resources you are going to use. Furthermore, if you are in the early stages of your career, a statement from your mentor or head of department might be required.

As you can see, a fellowship application requires a lot of careful consideration, as you are asking someone else to fund the research you want to do, rather than applying to do research someone else has already decided to invest in. This takes time, so make sure you start your application well in advance of the deadline. More information can be found on the websites for individual funding organisations.

Assessment process

Unlike the assessment process for PostDocs at a university or at an industrial / corporate organisation, an interview is not usually required in order to obtain a postdoctoral fellowship. Instead, your application is peer reviewed. If the funding is supplied by a research council for example, this peer review process is done by two members of the specific research council college, one of which will be an expert in the field.


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