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060: The Right (And Wrong) Ways to Contact Potential Postdoc Advisors

Dear Dr. Scientist,

I’m writing to tell you how much I admire your work in the field of science that you study.  Your lab has done some tremendous work researching very important topics of significance.  I just loved your latest research article and I’m sure it made your university or institution proud!

In any case, I’m looking for a postdoc position in a lab like yours.  Please let me know what day I can start.


A Grad Student

If you want to end up in University spam filters, then just copy and paste this email to everyone in the department.

If you’d like that postdoc advisor to take notice and invite you for an interview, we have some tips for making contact and getting a response!

Take me to your mentor

This week on the show, we hear from Tessa, a nearly-minted PhD student who is on the hunt for a postdoc advisor.  She wonders about the rules and etiquette for reaching out:

I’m very close to finishing my PhD in physics. I would love to know your thoughts on cold calling academics in the job hunt. I know this is done a lot, but personally I always feel a little awkward reaching out to researchers at the top of their field, who I’ve never met before. 

Some of the questions I’ve been pondering are:
– How might this first email sound?
– Whether you should ask directly about opportunities to work together or just express interest in what they do.
– How to explain how my research interests aligns with theirs in few words.
– How to stand out amongst the crowd.
– Whether there are other things I should be doing like creating an online presence, webpage, etc.

We start at the beginning, by reminding you to think about whether you actually need a postdoc to achieve your career goals.

Assuming a postdoc makes sense for you, we share advice for identifying eligible advisors by mining your existing network of research contacts.  Ask faculty members and postdocs in your department who they’d recommend based on your research interests.  You might discover labs you’d have overlooked in a web search, and you’ll have a ‘warm’ introduction rather than calling cold.

If your colleagues can’t help, there are a handful of do’s and don’ts to consider when crafting an email.


  • Open with a personal connection – “I saw your talk at the recent convention” or “Jim suggested I contact you.”  Making it personal and targeted will get them to read past the first paragraph.
  • Let them know you’re looking for a postdoc opportunity – There are times to be coy and times to be direct. In this situation, hinting your way into the job is going to be difficult and confusing. Let them know you are looking for a postdoc position and how your research interests will align.
  • Include an updated CV and references – Make it easy for the advisor to see how your background and skills are a great fit.


  • Contact them by mail – No need for a snail-mail package with your CV and recent publications.  It’s not 1802. Everyone has email now.
  • Spam a big list of labs – You shouldn’t email that advisor if you aren’t interested in the lab.  Yeah, I know it’s scary to put all your eggs into just a few baskets, but you’ll get a better result with focus and specificity.
  • Expect a response after one email – Look, people are busy.  Even if they’d love to have you in their lab, they may have forgotten to reply.  Send a gracious follow-up email or hop on the phone to let them know you’re truly interested.

Do you have suggestions for how to contact PhD or postdoc mentors?  Share them in the comments section below!

Fall Back

Ah, November. There’s a chill in the air, election coverage on every channel, and pumpkin spice on every surface.  We celebrate with some Twisted Gourd Imperial Chocolate Chai Pumpkin Ale from South St Brewery in Charlottesville, VA.

Brewed with chai tea spices and cocoa nibs, this beer could replace your “maybe just a tiny slice of everything” approach to the Thanksgiving pie table.

And while we’re on the subject of November, what the heck is up with Daylight Savings Time? Not only does it make my car and microwave clocks disagree, it’s apparently causing depression! Maybe if I move the microwave into the car the two can sort out their differences.


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