After the PhD: How to apply for postdocs

After the PhD: How to apply for postdocs

Talk given by Rodrigo Nemmen (IAG USP) and Roderik Overzier (ON).

In this informal seminar, our goal is to demystify the process of applying for postdoctoral positions available outside Brasil. We will: present a lucid picture of the job market for postdocs abroad, give an outline of the different kinds of postdoc opportunities available (e.g. fellowships), application procedures, deadlines and how to be prepared. Both speakers are experienced in the international scientific arena.


Rodrigo Nemmen

August 17, 2017


  1. Rodrigo2 Aug. 17th 2017 After the PhD: How to apply

    for postdocs IAG USP ON Nemmen Overzier
  2. There are many other options besides postdocs and academia …

    … but today we will tell what you should do if you want to get a postdoc
  3. How did we get here? Nemmen (PhD UFRGS 2009) First

    postdoc application in 2008 (for 2009-2012)
 NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship, NASA Goddard Second postdoc application in 2012
 NASA Goddard + University of Maryland Concurso IAG USP late 2013 (started in 2014) Overzier (PhD Leiden 2006) First Postdoc application in 2005 (for 2006 - 2011)
 JHU + Max Planck Inst. f Astr. (1 + 3 + 1 yr) Second Postdoc application in 2010 (for 2011 - 2014)
 University of Texas Prize Fellowship (3 yr) Concurso publico Observatório Nacional in 2012 (started in 2013)
  4. Disclaimers: Our own, biased, opinion on these matters Ultimate goal:

    get a faculty job at the best possible institute/university for you Goal of this talk: advice on how to land the best possible postdoctoral job
  5. Why give a talk like this? Why apply abroad? Types

    of postdocs
 Where? How? When? After applying: interviews, rumor mill, negotiation General advice / strategies Group discussion Outline
  6. Why give a talk like this? These things are not

    being discussed enough here You have a lot of potential … but students don’t even apply (usually) Lots of anxiety involved in the process → procrastination Demystify the process: rough idea of various aspects involved You should begin way early (1-1.5 yrs before graduation!) If you don’t try, you will never know your potential for different reasons
  7. Why apply for postdocs abroad? Science is an international endeavor:

    different institutes and countries → broaden your scientific views Find the best possible place for your research +collaborators, +publications Increase your chances of getting a faculty job If you don't try, the answer will always be no plus: travel, new friends etc :)
  8. Scary time

  9. New faculty positions vs new PhDs in science & engineering

    Schillebeeckx+2013, Nature Biotechnology
  10. None
  11. Brazilian scenario <PhDs produced / yr> = 20 PhDs/(faculty positions)

    PhDs/(faculty positions) ≥ 5 not counting people that got PhDs abroad 2017 was a good year for faculty positions also note that retirement age is increasing Faculty positions in 2017 = 4
  12. Types of postdoc positions available

  13. Types of postdocs in Brasil CNPq CAPES PNPD FAPESP (pós-doutorado,

    JP ou num temático) MCTI-PCI (ON, INPE etc) Bolsas CsF Need: supervisor + project + Lattes
  14. Types of postdocs abroad Named fellowships (countrywide) Named fellowships (institute

    specific) Positions funded off grant money (project specific) “Created” fellowships (institute specific, often based off specific projects but recast as fellowships) Also: Brazilian-funded postdocs abroad freedom, prestige, best salaries
  15. Where to find available opportunities AAS Job Register all

    astronomy positions from phd to faculty Non-academic jobs This relates more to tomorrow’s program, but this is a really nice site for Astronomers (and probably physicists too!) looking for nonacademic jobs: There’s also a LinkedIn group for “Astronomers Beyond Academia: S. Markoff’s slides
  16. https://

  17. Named Fellowships, countrywide Hubble (HST, JWST related science) Einstein (high-energies)

    Sagan (planets) Jansky (radio) Marie Curie (all EU) ESA Fellowship (all EU) STFC (UK) NWO Veni (Netherlands) Deadlines: Nov. 1st Jan. Salaries: US$67.5k / year Travel: US$16.5k / year
  18. Named Fellowships, institute-specific NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Caltech MIT: Pappalardo

    Harvard: CfA / ITC Fellowships Yale Berkeley Princeton Deadlines: March 1st, July 1st, Nov. 1st ESO Fellowship (Germany or Chile) Max Planck Institute CITA Perimeter JAXA (Japan) Shanghai Taiwan Salaries: ~$60-67k / year
  19. Some other things to keep in mind: There is an

    explosion in “fellowships” these days, and they are not equally prestigious or free in terms of research. Be sure to know what you’re being offered (ask external people) The majority of positions out there will involve working for someone off their personal grant. Generally gives you less control over the research, but will be equally productive if... 1. You like the person/get along with them (very important!) 2. You like the research topic and you can *demonstrate initiative*! 3. You are at a good institute with other people to interact with 4. There are sufficient resources (decent office/computer/facilities) 5. Travel budget-- very important!! Ask for specifics 6. You have some percentage (usually ~40% of the time IF you fulfill your other duties) to do your own research Sera Markoff Fellowships from personal or project grants
  20. How to apply Applications usually consist of Cover letter CV

    Research statement and/or project (for fellowships) 2-3 recommendation letters Tone: be confident and reasonable, don’t underplay your skills, but also don’t brag about experience that is not reflected by your CV (publication record) Typos, grammar mistakes, formatting errors are unforgivable! Red flags which are reasons for disqualification
  21. How to: Cover letter Mostly for jobs with individuals. Deserves

    some effort Tailored to the right person at the right institute! Do not write “Dear Sir(s)”. Explain *very briefly* who you are, what your background/ interests are, and why you are applying for this particular job. Make clear how your interests overlap with those of the person or institute advertising the job! Put more effort in if it is not obvious why you fit the job Usually you also put the names/contact info of your letters of recommendation Sound enthusiastic and interested!
  22. Example of cover letter National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard

    Space Flight Center Mail Code 661 Greenbelt, MD 20771 November 13th 2012 Dear Prof. Quataert: I am responding to the AAS Job Register advertisement for the Theoretical Astrophysics Center Postdoctoral Fellowship (JRID43073). I am currently a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Goddard Space Flight Center, working under the supervision of Dr. Neil Gehrels. I am also a member of the Fermi LAT Collaboration. As you may note from my CV and research statement, my research is focused on black holes and their astrophysical manifestations in AGNs and gamma-ray bursts. As a theorist who works intensely with data analysis and astrostatistics, I have a number of different projects that make use of observations in gamma-rays – involving particularly the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope – and X-rays as well as ultra-high-energy cosmic rays in order to unveil some of the mysteries behind black hole activity. I would like to draw attention to one of my papers, recently accepted for publication in Science. In this work – of which I was project lead and first author – my colleagues and I made use of Fermi and Swift observations of blazars and GRBs in order to have a unified understanding of black hole jets across the mass scale. This paper is currently under embargo and is expected to be published in the second week of December. Finally, in addition to my research interests, I also enjoy participating in science education outreach activities with both aspiring students and the general public. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Sincerely, Dr. Rodrigo Nemmen
  23. How to: CV Basic info: Name, current position and contact

    info, citizenship Education section: start with university degrees only. Write your degree name in native tongue, then translate to system where you are applying, i.e.: “Univ. Gaudéria, Diploma Churrascus Aopontus (equiv. to Bachelors Degree)” List PhD thesis title and advisor List all awards/grants List all research jobs/experience List invited talks/colloquia if you have any, schools etc. if you are MSc student List all relevant skills (computer programming etc) List all languages and level of fluency Avoid listing external interests: e.g. “anime fan” don’t put a photo of yourself in your CV we can share a CV template, ask us
  24. Google for: einstein fellow cv astronomy or hubble fellow cv

  25. Research statement: past, current and future research Follow application instructions

    very carefully → great diversity in requested length from 1–5 p. When in doubt, shorter (~1 p.) is better It takes ~months to write a good application. Start early! Show awareness of the type of position and tailor your proposal! (at least for the jobs you really want!) Emphasize aspects of your work that fit the job you’re applying for. Mention specific people/ projects/names @ the institute, and sound like you mean it! Why? It shows that you have done your homework. Many people don’t bother, so it will make your application stand out in the pile A figure is worth ~1000 words. Make very nice, clear, easy to parse, colorful figures
  26. Example: Research statement Gordon T. Richards; Research Statement Introduction: Black

    holes capture the imagination of the public. Indeed, we now know that a black hole lurks in the center of our own galaxy, and in the past few years we have discovered over one million black holes. These are not just any black holes, but super-massive black holes (with masses of more than 100 million Suns) in the form of “quasars”. A quasar is a galaxy that is home to a super-massive central black hole that is actively growing by accreting new material. In-falling material creates an “accretion disk” that, due to friction, gets so hot that it emits radiation from optical to X-ray wavelengths. This compact accretion disk outshines the rest of the galaxy and makes it look like a star (thus the name “quasi-stellar”). In recent years, the community has come to realize that quasars are not simply unusual galaxies, but rather represent a stage in the life of every massive galaxy (Hopkins et al. 2006). The quasar stage acts to regulate both the growth of galaxies and their central, supermassive black holes via coupling (“feed back”) between quasar-related processes (e.g., Richards et al. 2011; Paper 1) and gas in the large-scale galaxy. This process eventually leaves the galaxy with a remnant massive (but inactive) black hole. The brightness of the galaxy during the quasar phase enables astronomers to learn an enormous amount about the Universe—in particular about the formation and evolution of galaxies—through statistical investigations of vast numbers of quasars. Past Work: The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) project has done for ground-based astronomy what the Hubble Space Telescope has done for space-based. In the early days of the project, I was responsible for finalizing the algorithm that SDSS uses to identify candidate quasars (Richards et al. 2002) and to characterize quasar properties (e.g., Richards et al. 2001a). The quality of this work was crucial to bringing the largest homogeneous sample of quasars from ∼ 1000 prior to the start of the SDSS to over 100,000 (Schneider, Richards, et al. 2010) and beyond (Pˆ aris et al. 2012). Our resulting analysis of the quasar “luminosity function” (Richards et al. 2006; Paper 2) has had a significant impact on the field. With the knowledge and data gained from SDSS and in collaboration with computer scientists, we have shown that the classical method of quasar selection was outdated. These efforts were supported in part
  27. Google for: einstein fellow research statement or hubble fellow research

  28. How to: Letters of recommendation Most places require 3 letters.

    WHO WILL YOU ASK? Letter-writers: People that know you (professionally speaking) reasonably well. Your advisor(s), co-authors of papers, people you worked with One of the reasons why you need to: network, write papers together, collaborate Get positive, good letters! It does not help having Prof. Sunyaev, or your own supervisor, writing you a bad letter But it always helps to have (good) letters from people with good contacts/reputation abroad Let them know well in advance which jobs you are applying to and the deadlines (at least a month beforehand, people are busy!) Get to know if they will write good letters (just ask!)
  29. How to apply: Some thoughts The job application process is

    very time consuming It is not something you can do in a day, or even a week (you will probably be already stressed out with your thesis ==> even harder) You have to frame your proposal differently in each case, do some customizing Get feedback on your application material!
  30. standard decision deadline: Feb 15th US fellowships When to apply?

    If you are finishing in 2018, then mid-2017 is when you should begin seriously applying, up to ONE YEAR in advance!
  31. After applying • Interview • Rumor mill • Hopefully, some

    job offer(s) • Negotiation Applying is only half the work!
  32. The interview Interviewing: at conferences (AAS) or they will fly

    you to the institute in some cases or Skype / phone Typical interview questions you need to prepare for: • why do you want THIS job ? • why do you want to work HERE, specifically ? • why is YOUR research interesting to us ? • why should we hire YOU, specifically ? • do you need any special computers, lab, telescope ? • where do you see yourself in 10 years ?
  33. wiki/Rumor+Mill

  34. None
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  36. Some final advice

  37. Initiative/resourcefulness/be proactive Your connections matter (a lot): network during PhD!!

    Start everything early: at least a month before first deadline Self-critique (it won’t be perfect the first time) Do not rule out jobs based on location or too early Just apply and see what happens Key points
  38. Key points II Typical good postdoc positions get 50 to

    >200 applications So you need to be really sure of yourself if you are applying to just a few positions! FAPESP/CAPES funded postdocs abroad are not an accomplishment after all, you did not compete for those positions with ~200 other (foreign) postdocs, and any place will usually say yes to receiving a “free” postdoc However, such an extraordinary opportunity offered by Brazil does not exist almost anywhere in the world! so use these amazing opportunities wisely to establish contacts abroad to get a competitive postdoc position afterward Don’t be too narrowly focused on passing a Concurso as soon as possible after the PhD without having several independent and crucial formative years as a postdoc, you will probably not be able to lead the next generation of Brazilian astrophysicists even if you pass a Concurso
  39. introduce yourself always to visitors, seminar speakers, people in workshops,

    conferences, tell them briefly about your work Always leave a good impression with everyone, you never know who they know or if they may be affecting your job search Do a “estágio-sanduíche" or something similar, if possible: great for networking Attend conferences! Get your name out there. Give talks and give good talks: very important Consider going to the January AAS meeting of the year you are graduating 2-body system: start discussing well in advance Marketing
  40. If it is not clear if your work will result

    in a paper, then it is wasted effort (usually) People will judge you by the number and quality of your publications i.e., all your work during your MSc and up until the 3rd year of your PhD when you will be sending your application! The best students have >3 first author papers at the time they start applying Keep that in mind, because this will be your primary competition Publish or perish
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  43. Be proactive Initiative, resourcefulness Before you decide on a project,

    try to investigate if there is a reasonable chance of success Shortcut: check your advisor’s CV, reputation, and the history of his/her past students Do not just sit and wait for your advisor to tell you what to do This is your PhD, so make sure that you are in control at all times
  44. • Invest in some professional development courses: proposal writing, selling

    yourself, networking, presenting • Google: "how to win a hubble fellowship” , “research statement”, “CV”, etc • Be inspired by - and learn from - “successful” people • Apply to as many positions as you can • Make a professional website • Google yourself and be careful with what shows up • Get noticed for your work, and not (only) as the one that drank too many Caipirinhas in the SAB Some tips and tricks
  45. Rejections vs number of applications Nemmen: applied to ~30 positions,

    got two offers Overzier: applied to ~40 positions after PhD, got three offers (~8 shortlists/interviews)
  46. International scientific experience is fundamental for many reasons: Postdocs abroad

    are great Best researchers have an international career (Brasil’s science bubble) Initiative/resourcefulness/be proactive You should begin the process early (1-1.5 yrs before graduation) If you don’t try, you will never know your potential Summary