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« How can the Cocoon help you? (February 2017) | Main | Reader query on applying for dissertation fellowships »



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More people should look into Fulbright post-docs. The odds of getting one, especially if it's not in a place like the UK or Germany, are actually pretty good. Plus, you're allowed to adjust the time period if necessary (I changed mine to six months when I got a permanent job).


I think it is pretty similar to applying to a research job. The main difference is you usually have to write a project proposal, and that takes quite a bit of time. In my experience those who get the post doc usually have research projects that very closely resemble the specific project that the post doc is focused on. Of course, a few post docs are completely open and those usually go to ppl in top 10 schools with no publications.

The other postdoc

When it comes to post-docs, it's difficult to offer general advice. Post-doc application materials aren't as standardized as TT or VAP materials. That being said, they typically require a 1-4 page research proposal. This is different from your typical research statement. The research proposal will need to be more detailed than a research statement, and more forward-looking. It's a good idea to include a month-by-month, or at least term-by-term, timeline of research. Everyone knows you won't stick to it exactly, but they want to know you've put time into thinking about how much work you can get done during the post-doc, and how you're going to achieve your goals. Also, make sure you're writing to the right audience. Many European post-docs are part of larger grants, and the grant PI makes the final decision—the PI is your audience. On the other hand, Mellon, Ford, Fulbright, and many university-wide post-docs are ultimately decided by a panel of academics with no expertise in your field (and maybe no one working in philosophy at all). However, many of these post-docs involve at least one stage of review where your application will be assessed by academics in your field (or at least in philosophy). So, for these you need to write in a way that is philosophically sound, but accessible to well-educated non-experts. This is a difficult line to walk. Make sure you cut the jargon, and take the time to spell out the implications of your research for other academic fields and, even better, areas outside of academia. If you can include a lay summary with your application, do so.

There's plenty more I could say, but I think this hits a few of the important points.

Trevor Hedberg

In my experience on the market, postdocs usually require more specific tailoring than other types of applications. They almost always request either (1) a detailed cover letter that explains your reasons for applying for the fellowship and how you would contribute to the fellowship's broader goals or (2) a detailed description -- 1000-1500 words -- of the project you would undertake while you had the fellowship. Some will have additional idiosyncratic requirements. On my understanding, it is also relatively common for postdoc applications to be evaluated by non-philosophers, especially when the position is open to applicants from a wide variety of disciplines. That means that you often need to make your cover letter and project description accessible to those without any significant background in philosophy.


What Amanda said is important. Look at the history of who has received a given postdoc before you put any serious time into applying. You will sometimes find that, e.g. only graduates from X university have *ever* been given Y postdoc. This is a pretty good sign that it's not actually a postdoc. It's a cushy reward X university gives to its top graduate in Z studies every year. So it's a waste of your time to apply.

No, I won't name names. I'll just say that you should look at the history before you apply and then think for a moment about what plausible mechanisms could lead to that particular history.

Sara L. Uckelman

Post-docs are often tied to another researcher's research project, and thus can potentially have narrowly defined possibilities of research topic. If that's so, make sure your research proposal fits!


To follow up on what Tim says, it looks like the Bersoff Post Docs at NYU go to a very narrow range of people from a very narrow range of places.


Well yes anonymous but that is hardly the only postdoc like that. Prestigious postdocs go to prestigious ppl, and usually those without publications over those prestigious ppl with publications. Maybe the theory is that those without publications need time to work on them.

I have noticed that even after years of all research postdocs, many prestigious ppl still only have 1 or 2 or no publications. But if you look at the UCLA hiring document that went public maybe a year ago, that is not surprising. (They criticized those that publish too much and suggest that great philosophy consists of only a few publications).


I really don't think you're doing yourself or anyone else a service by appealing to this UCLA example. I got my PhD at an elite school and now teach at an elite school, and UCLA has a notorious and widespread reputation for being extremely idiosyncratic about how they judge quality of philosophy, what kind of work they like, and how much they care about publications. Elite/prestigious departments are not a monolithic entity and certainly have widely varying views about this issue. (As, by the way, do non-elite departments!)


Of course they aren't a monolithic entity.....

Helen De Cruz

There are 2 kinds of postdoc positions: the postdoc who works on a specific research project, e.g., an European Research Council grant or Templeton grant, and the postdoc who has their own fellowship (e.g., Leverhulme, British Academy in the UK - similar schemes exist in the US and Canada, and on the European continent). I've been in both situations (and I am not from an elite school).
- Postdoc who work on a specific research project: In your cover letter, demonstrate fit with the project and how you can contribute to it. Be specific about the outputs you will generate, as this is often a concern for the person who hires you. Projects such as large ERC grants require that the project leader delivers the outputs that are promised, so they'll want to hire people who can do that. Also emphasize that you're happy to be co-writing with other project members (if you are happy to do so) because this is a plus on many grants.
- Postdoc with own fellowship: Usually these are very competitive, e.g., British Academy has about 5% acceptance rate. You need to outline a crisp, clear, interesting research proposal that goes beyond the dissertation (also qualitatively) - ideally something related to it so they feel confident you can do it, but new enough so it's not just you milking your diss, something British Academy explicitly does not want.

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