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ELRA 2021: Advice on postdoc applications

ELRA 2021: Advice on postdoc applications

Advice on applying for postdocs in astronomy and astrophysics, an invited virtual presentation for La Escuela Latinoamericana de Relatividad y Astrofísica 2021: https://lacar.webflow.io/

More about Dr. Abbie Stevens: https://abigailstevens.com/

Dr. Abbie Stevens

November 28, 2021
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  1. ADVICE ON POSTDOC
    APPLICATIONS
    Dr. Abbie Stevens
    Michigan State Univ. & Univ. of Michigan
    La Escuela Latinoamericana de Relatividad y Astrofísica 2021

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  2. OUTLINE
    • Who am I? Abbie’s educational trajectory
    • Types of postdocs
    • Application strategies
    • Writing applications
    • Letters of recommendation
    • General advice
    • More resources (mostly links for later)
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  3. EDUCATIONAL
    TRAJECTORY
    • College: small liberal arts college
    • BA, physics major, math minor
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  4. EDUCATIONAL
    TRAJECTORY
    • College: small liberal arts college
    • BA, physics major, math minor
    • Graduate school: large research universities
    • MSc in physics, in astrophysics group
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  5. EDUCATIONAL
    TRAJECTORY
    • College: small liberal arts college
    • BA, physics major, math minor
    • Graduate school: large research universities
    • MSc in physics, in astrophysics group
    • PhD in astronomy, in large astronomy research
    institute
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  6. EDUCATIONAL
    TRAJECTORY
    • College: small liberal arts college
    • BA, physics major, math minor
    • Graduate school: large research universities
    • MSc in physics, in astrophysics group
    • PhD in astronomy, in large astronomy research
    institute
    • Postdoc: large research universities
    • US National Science Foundation fellowship,
    shared between 2 universities
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  7. • Named independent fellowships ⟹ most prestigious, hardest to get
    ØNASA Hubble/Einstein/Sagan (USA)
    ØMarie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship (EU)
    ØESO fellowships (Germany & Chile)
    Ø(and many more; see resources slide at end)
    TYPES OF POSTDOCS
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  8. • Named independent fellowships ⟹ most prestigious, hardest to get
    ØNASA Hubble/Einstein/Sagan (USA)
    ØMarie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship (EU)
    ØESO fellowships (Germany & Chile)
    • University-wide independent fellowships ⟹ also prestigious, still hard to get
    Ø Miller fellowship at UC Berkeley
    Ø President’s postdoc fellowship at Univ. of Michigan
    Ø Dirac fellowship at Univ. of Washington
    Ø (and many more; see AAS Job Register)
    TYPES OF POSTDOCS
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  9. • Named independent fellowships ⟹ most prestigious, hardest to get
    ØNASA Hubble/Einstein/Sagan (USA)
    ØMarie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship (EU)
    ØESO fellowships (Germany & Chile)
    • University-wide independent fellowships ⟹ also prestigious, still hard to get
    Ø Miller fellowship at UC Berkeley
    Ø President’s postdoc fellowship at Univ. of Michigan
    Ø Dirac fellowship at Univ. of Washington
    • Project postdocs ⟹ by far the most common, still not easy to get
    Ø Funded from a grant awarded to the supervisor
    TYPES OF POSTDOCS
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  10. • Junior group leader ⟹ most common in Europe
    ØFunding for yourself and a PhD student (sometimes more), doesn’t always
    transition to a permanent position.
    ØAlready done one postdoc
    TYPES OF POSTDOCS
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  11. • Junior group leader ⟹ most common in Europe
    ØFunding for yourself and a PhD student (sometimes more), doesn’t always
    transition to a permanent position.
    ØAlready done one postdoc
    • Transitional faculty fellowships ⟹ new in the US
    ØPostdoc for 1-2 years with some teaching, lots of mentoring from faculty,
    with the intent to transition to a tenure-track professorship (but not
    guaranteed)
    TYPES OF POSTDOCS
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  12. APPLICATION STRATEGIES: PREP
    • Talk with your PhD supervisor, co-authors, collaborators, conference buddies, etc.
    ØWhere is the interesting work happening? Where are the people who are really
    great to work with?
    • Give conference talks and say you’re on the job market looking for postdocs
    • Contact your colleagues and offer to give a seminar for their institute or department,
    especially if you would like to go there for a postdoc
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  13. APPLICATION STRATEGIES: PREP
    • Talk with your PhD supervisor, co-authors, collaborators, conference buddies, etc.
    ØWhere is the interesting work happening? Where are the people who are really
    great to work with?
    • Give conference talks and say you’re on the job market looking for postdocs
    • Contact your colleagues and offer to give a seminar for their institute or department,
    especially if you would like to go there for a postdoc
    • Should have at least one paper published as first-author (or equivalent)
    • Submitted papers can be listed on your CV, but “in preparation” papers shouldn’t be
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  14. APPLICATION STRATEGIES: THE APP
    • For your postdoc, look to develop a secondary research area of expertise
    • Ask around in your network if someone has a previous application you can look at
    (especially if it was a successful application)
    • Prepare in advance!! Most deadlines are September-November, so you should start
    looking at and working on this over the summer!
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  15. APPLICATION STRATEGIES: LIFE
    • When making lists of possible jobs, also consider location. It’s important that you
    like where you live, but don’t rule something out too soon
    • If you have family that will come with you, what visa can your spouse get? Will they
    be able to work? For the US, you and your partner must be married.
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  16. WRITING APPLICATIONS
    • Research proposals for independent fellowships:
    Ø Make super clear why this research needs to happen now, and why you are the perfect
    person to do it, and why it needs to happen at the proposed host institute
    Ø Give your draft to many colleagues in different sub-fields, ask them to tear it apart and
    give you feedback. The “red thread” connecting idea should be very clear throughout.
    Ø Write it like a news article, not a mystery novel
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  17. WRITING APPLICATIONS
    • Research proposals for independent fellowships:
    Ø Make super clear why this research needs to happen now, and why you are the perfect
    person to do it, and why it needs to happen at the proposed host institute
    Ø Give your draft to many colleagues in different sub-fields, ask them to tear it apart and
    give you feedback. The “red thread” connecting idea should be very clear throughout.
    Ø Write it like a news article, not a mystery novel
    • Research statements for project postdocs:
    Ø Address the content of the project in the job advertisement and why your awesome,
    unique skill set makes you the ideal person to do the research
    Ø Don’t give them a proposal for new research – they are paying you to work on their
    project!
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  18. WRITING APPLICATIONS
    • Mention your long-term goals, how working on this project fits in to those
    • “Show, don’t tell” – give examples to back up your statements
    • Use figures! Adapt the figure so that it’s concise and not full of extra junk
    • Jobs are so over-subscribed that they are looking for a reason to reject your
    application. Don’t give them an easy way out!
    • Iterate with a writing tutor to be sure the English is clear
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  19. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
    • Usually need 2 or 3 for each application
    • When asking: “Do you think that you could write me a very strong letter of
    recommendation for a postdoc application?”
    ØUS letters need to be very positive
    ØEuropean letters should be more restrained
    • Give them 4 weeks notice that you would like letters
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  20. LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
    • Usually need 2 or 3 for each application
    • When asking: “Do you think that you could write me a very strong letter of
    recommendation for a postdoc application?”
    ØUS letters need to be very positive
    ØEuropean letters should be more restrained
    • Give them 4 weeks notice that you would like letters
    • You can ask a letter writer to include specific pieces of information (like addressing a
    discrepancy or delay to a paper) or highlight certain things
    • If you don’t have a letter from your PhD advisor, another letter writer must address
    what happened and why you don’t have that letter
    • Also worth mentioning if you have a personal reason for wanting to work at that
    specific university (near family, spouse has a job offer nearby, etc.)
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  21. GENERAL ADVICE
    • There’s a mental health crisis in academia,1 even for postdocs
    • Advisor fit and sense of belonging is a predictor of mental wellbeing
    ØYour supervisor can make or break your postdoc experience!
    • When thinking about your intended career path, think about how this postdoc will
    help you develop more skills to be the best candidate and enjoy the work
    • Look at CVs of people who have jobs you want!
    • The AstroBetter Rumor Mill 2 only ever has bad news. Have a friend check it if you
    haven’t heard anything just to see if the position is filled, but don’t check it yourself.
    1: https://abigailstevens.com/mental-wellbeing-academia/
    2: https://www.astrobetter.com/wiki/Rumor+Mill
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  22. GENERAL ADVICE
    • There is a lot of rejection, but it often isn’t personal. After you’re done feeling sad
    (which is normal and healthy), see what lessons you can learn for next time.
    • The standards continue to rise. What was enough to land a permanent position
    before isn’t enough anymore.
    • Celebrate the successes when you have them!
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  23. GENERAL ADVICE
    • There is a lot of rejection, but it often isn’t personal. After you’re done feeling sad
    (which is normal and healthy), see what lessons you can learn for next time.
    • The standards continue to rise. What was enough to land a permanent position
    before isn’t enough anymore.
    • Celebrate the successes when you have them!
    • International experience is often necessary (and fun!)
    • If you’re part of an underrepresented demographic and you don’t see anyone else
    from that demographic at that department, ask questions of mentors and current
    grad students and postdocs (there and elsewhere)
    ØFigure out whether there’s a problem there, or just don’t happen to be any grad
    students/postdocs/profs of that demographic there at that time
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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  24. MORE RESOURCES
    • Prof. Sera Markoff’s “How 2 Apply 4 Stuff” talk:
    https://www.seramarkoff.com/teaching/
    ØShe is a prestigious research professor in Amsterdam, so if you want that type of
    job, look through her slides on landing a permanent position!
    • The AstroBetter blog and wiki: https://www.astrobetter.com/
    ØI wrote a wiki page about independent fellowships in Europe:
    https://www.astrobetter.com/wiki/Postdoc+fellowships+in+Europe
    • AAS Job Register: https://jobregister.aas.org/
    • EAS Job Directory: https://eas.unige.ch//jobs.jsp
    A. Stevens, ELRA 2021

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