Advice for STEM PhDs Looking for a Postdoc!

On April 28th, Career Services hosted a CHOP postdoctoral fellow for an online Q&A for PhD students about finding postdocs.  Below is a snapshot of the advice offered to students thinking about pursuing postdoctoral opportunities.  As always, students interested in postdocs can schedule an appointment with a career advisor to discuss their approach and strategies.  Schedule a telephone or video appointment via Handshake ( today!

  • No one is being as productive as they’d like right now (including PIs) and it’s OK to not be as productive right now.
  • See a postdoc as an opportunity to gain skills to head in a new direction and to transition to where you really want to be
  • Start looking about a year before you think you’ll finish – but this was information gathering and less actually trying to find an opportunity – that picked up speed about 6 months out
  • Students should talk to everyone around them (mentors/current postdocs in their labs or neighboring labs/research scientists/PIs) to get their feedback on how they conducted their search
  • Look at the postings by professional organizations – he did not find any opportunities this way that fit what he wanted, but it gave him ideas on who was accepting postdocs, who had just received a grant
  • Networking is key!  Reach out via email to lots of strangers and found most to be gracious and helpful – many did not have opportunities but offered to refer him to other colleagues – over time he started asking for this referral assistance
  • Research on pubmed who was publishing articles on topics that seemed interesting to him and reached out directly to learn more
  • The NIH Reporter publishes who just received an RO1 grant – he knew this meant they had money coming in and would do research to see if he might have useful skills and then reach out to the PI
  • Send brief emails to PIs (not full cover letters) and attach CV to the introductory email
  • Spend time thinking about what you want to get out of the postdoc so you can best articulate what you can do – you don’t want to keep repeating what you did as a student
  • If you can get funding on your own (T32) lots of PIs will want to talk to you
  • Think about what you need – is it better to work with a junior or senior faculty?  Working with junior likely means more productivity/publications – but working with a senior faculty likely means more guidance but also freedom to choose your projects
  • You will get better at networking the more you do it
  • Start early – he wishes he had come to Career Services earlier as he would have done better in interviews 😊
  • He was asked about how to negotiate start dates due to dissertation date shifting – he found PIs to be pretty flexible and understanding in this regard (and would think if a PI was difficult about this, that would be a red flag)
  • In regards to COVID-19 and postdoc searching – keep reaching out and looking.  NIH is still funding grants and everyone is still working, just remotely.
  • Understanding how you will be funded going into a postdoc is important – you don’t want to run out of funding before you have been able to accomplish what you set out to
By Dianne Hull
Dianne Hull Senior Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs