Hello, I would like to receive some suggestions about what you think to be the best important things that should be kept in mind while looking for a postdoc position. I'm not considering (in this question) the opportunities one may have from direct knowledge, e.g. because they were pointed out from your advisor or in any case about positions in some nearby university where you have some contact.

For instance while it is often not written explicitly, for most positions the candidate is expected to have taken personal contacts with one professor that may be interested, and set up a research project together. But this is certainly not the only matter, and I would like to hear some story from who has some experience in this kind of issues, also for what regards things which can vary a lot depending on the country (i did my Master and I am doing Ph.D. in Italy, with a short period in France).

To make the question more focused, i'm mostly interested in the scenario of someone working in pure mathematics (e.g. number theory) making application from Europe to some university in North America, or possibly also in Asia.

(EDITED as suggested by quid, making the question CW, and more focused and about data rather than about advice).

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    $\begingroup$ I really don't think that MathOverflow is a suitable place for advice questions, so I'm voting to close this as "off topic". If anyone disagrees and would like to discuss this, please open a thread on meta rather than discussing it in the comments here. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2011 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ I think there is a 'hidden' question that could be good, but clarification is essential. Meta at tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1136/… $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Sep 14, 2011 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: ok, i will clarify later. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2011 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ Vague. When you say overseas, can you be more specific? Are you targeting precise areas in the world (North America, South America, Asia...)? By the way, the real question here is "who would pay your salary?". Depending on the answer, you would have more or less hoops to jump through to be accepted. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2011 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @thierry: I was actually afraid of making a question which was too specific. But as i said i'm going to change it to a less vague one. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2011 at 18:20

3 Answers 3


For instance while it is often not written explicitly, for most positions the candidate is expected to have taken personal contacts with one professor that may be interested, and set up a research project together.

This is not the case in the US. Depending on exactly how one interprets what you've written, it could even be illegal to do what you've described without explicitly stating this in the job announcement. Many postdoctoral jobs in the US are open to all areas of math; some are grant-funded and will have a more specific focus, but this will be clearly stated in the job advertisement.

What is true is that you are very unlikely to be hired for a postdoc (in the US, or I would assume anywhere else) if there isn't a professor in the department who strongly desires to hire you, and it is not so likely (though far from impossible) that this will happen because they are looking through a long list of applicants (any good postdoc will get hundreds) and just happen to look at yours. Your prospects will improve a lot if you (or your advisor on your behalf) make contact with professors who might be interested in your research.

  • $\begingroup$ Along the same lines, someone who would like to bring in a post-doc can apply for external funding to support said post-doc, which can be a decisive factor for the post-doc position to be available at all. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2011 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ I always had a sense it was pretty rare in the US to apply for postdoc funding with a particular person in mind; the postdoc market is a litte too deep and fluid to really know far enough in advance who you want and that you will get them. Maybe I'm wrong and just haven't seen many examples. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Webster
    Sep 15, 2011 at 16:34

In Sheffield (which is probably typical for UK universities other than Oxford and Cambridge):

  • Many postdoc positions are for a specific project.
  • It is normal to have many applications from people that we have never heard of before.
  • We would not pay much attention to teaching experience for a postdoc position.

To complement Neil's answers: At Oxford and Cambridge you will find things called "Junior Research Fellowships". These are funded by and administered by the colleges (and not the mathematics department). They could be in any subject, or in, say, "Science and Mathematics", or even just "Mathematics" (but it's very unlikely to be more specific). Probably the college will rotate which subject(s) it wants over the years.

These position receive a very large number applications, and so some sort of filtering system along the lines Ben suggests must happen. Having strong references is perhaps the most important thing.

(I had one of these. I didn't know anyone at the college before, but in the end, a mathematics fellow at the college in question worked in a field rather close to mine, and interviewed me, so presumably understood my work and was sufficiently impressed by it. But the other postdoc in my year at the same college was in a different area, and the college simply invited in an expert from outside to interview him. So my strong advice would be to apply for everything, and get lucky once!)

The best guide to these things remains, I think, Tom Korner's: http://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~twk/fellow.pdf

I think a few other places in the UK (Warwick? Imperial College London?) might offer one postdoc position a year under a similar format (any subject, best candidate wins)??


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