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I don’t have any positive advice per se but rather a cautionary advice because this is very tricky situation and the above comments are reasonable. There is one unintended consequence that may arise from the preemptive method: more people might preemptively contact many professors. Getting so many emails or calls from potential post-docs could be stressful. They might get really mad or at least annoyed thereby ruining your chance of working with them. As well, the preemptive move might make them feel and think you are unnecessarily entitled.

If you’re in a very small subfield, just be extremely cautious. You don't want to disappoint somebody who you may rely on in the future. I’m just thinking of the worst-case scenario that could happen. Trust me, I also fear disappointing people or at least coming across as a nuisance to them many times.


I was a postdoc in Europe and I was involved in searches of postdocs for projects in Europe. It depends a little on what the OP expects from getting in contact with professors who search for postdocs. It seems that the OP believes that a professor will clarify whether it is sensible to apply. I do not believe that this a reasonable expectation. And here is why:
1. Ads for postdoc position are usually quite specific about the AOS that are expected. You should be able to find out from the ad (or the AOS of the prof) whether you are qualified to apply.
2. If the call is indeed an open call, a lot depends on who will apply. Nobody knows this beforehand and it is sometimes surprising how many or how few applicants apply. In case of an open call, the professor cannot really tell you your chances. And you should be able to figure out yourself whether you are fit (see 1).
3. If the professor already has a favorite, she could not tell you. This would be admitting to an illegal practice and jeopardize the search as well as her position. It can also happen that the potential favorite does not apply, since she got another position etc. Hence, see 2.

I got the following advice, when I had my postdoc in Europe. Since you never know who applies and whether there is favorite, apply for everything you are a fit for. Yet there might be other reasons to contact a professor who searches for a postdoc: I am more conflicted about contacting a professor to introduce oneself. This could be helpful (you are really interested!), but it could also backfire (you are applying anyway and everybody is swamped with work). I think William Peden makes a good point about this situation.

elisa freschi

In my European experience, this is very much acceptable. As the OP writes, it saves time for both parties involved. As @EuroAmerican says, no one will be able to tell you "I want you to apply, you'll get the position", but they can tell you "I am really looking for someone having these specific skills, and you lack them" or "You could be a good fit". @EuroAmerican says in his point 1. that the ad should be enough to understand whether you are a good fit for it, but this is not necessarily the case. A trivial example: An AOS in "German Idealism" might or might not involve as a necessary component fluency in German.

Prof L

I'm not in Europe but I get annoyed when potential applicants contact me. It strikes me as clueless and (whether it's fair or not) I think of the person as desperate or a toady. The norm is to apply in the regular way, and this person asking for special treatment, for no particular reason. Like why should I work to give this person special privileges, when there is an ordinary application procedure, which indeed, is meant to determine if you are a good fit. I would avoid it. The potential risks are worse than the potential benefits, more likely to harm than help, in the American context at least.


well in Germany you are supposed to have a host for a Humboldt postdoc so yes you have to reach to a prof.

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