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Finding a Postdoc

Definition of a Postdoc:

A postdoc is a person who has received a doctoral degree and who is pursuing additional research, training, or teaching in order to have better skills to pursue a career in academia, research, or any other fields. Postdocs work closely with a faculty mentor. Postdocs play a crucial role in the university by supplementing the research expertise of faculty, sharing new techniques, collaborating with other institutions, and helping to manage the daily operations of a laboratory or research site. They also contribute teaching and advising support to undergraduate and graduate students.

Why are you interested in being a postdoc?

Think about your long term goals, and how a postdoc fits in those goals:

  • Do you want to stay in academia or are you looking at industry?
  • Do you want to focus on teaching, research, or a combination of both?
  • Are you getting a postdoc to learn new skills?
  • Are you getting a postdoc to publish?
  • Are you getting a postdoc to develop better teaching skills?
  • Are you getting a postdocs to further develop your existing skills?

Prepare for the Job Search:

Develop your CV: Meet with a career counselor in your college or in Barnes hall to write your CV. This is a very important document that you will keep updating for the rest of your career. You need a strong CV to get a position.

Mock Interview:  Work on your interviewing skills and develop your job talk.

References: Ask your advisor and other faculty members to be your references: Letters of recommendations are a very important part of the application process. You need strong references who know you well. Make sure that you give each referee an updated copy of your CV.

Network: Let everyone know that you are looking for a postdoc. Talk with your advisor and others to identify universities/labs.

Once you have identified what you hope to accomplish during a postdocs and made a list of prospective labs, talk to your advisor and other faculty to help shorten this list. Also, talk with postdocs in your department to get their opinions.

Investigate the Labs/PIs and University:

Check out the lab’s most recent publications and check out the lab’s website. Find out the record of past postdocs/grad students in the lab. Get in touch with current postdocs/grad students, as well as those who have moved on, to discuss their experience there, as well as where they are now. Choosing the right PI is vital to your future career. There are a few things to consider:

  • Is the PI well connected?
  • Does the PI have tenure?
  • Does the PI have a solid record in getting grants?
  • Does the PI have a solid record publishing?

Check the university salary and benefit package for postdocs and call the Postdoc office if they have one. Do they offer:

  • Health benefits for postdocs and their families
  • Retirement benefit
  • Career counseling
  • professional Development
  • Housing (can be essential in large city)

Start Applying:

Now that you have narrowed down the labs you are interested in, send out your CV and cover letter. If you do not get a reply within a month, follow up with an email. Remember that conferences are a great way to meet PI and network. Prior to the conference, get in touch with the PI/Labs you are interested in and schedule an informational meeting.


Prior to going, prepare and practice your presentation. Make your presentation distinctive, interesting, and understandable. Research the universities where you will be interviewing so you can ask good questions. Send thank you notes after each interview.

During the interview is the time to ask questions, to make sure that this the right position for you. Talk to other postdocs and grad students in the lab.

Final Steps:

Now come the easiest part, deciding which offer is best. By now you should have a good idea of each lab you applied to, and where the best place is for you in terms of research. Remember that once you make a decision you need to stay with it, so think carefully.


  • Science Careers
  • IRACDA Program: Teaching postdocs for scientists who want to transition into teaching
  • Minority Postdocs: A great resource to learn about different types of postdocs
  • Versatile Ph.D.: The Versatile PhD mission is to help humanities and social science PhDs and graduate students identify and prepare for possible non-academic careers.
  • Some postdoctoral positions are listed on the Cornell University Office of Human Resources Jobs at Cornell website.

External postdoc programs

Visiting fellows programs for current faculty