I write a biweekly Question and Answer column on an online scientist community called Benchfly.com, and I recently received the following question: “How many fellowships do most people apply for when starting their postdoc?” This is an interesting and relevant question particularly as the tough job market is channeling more PhD’s towards the postdoctoral track. According the NSF and the National Postdoctoral Association, there were 89,000 postdoctoral fellows in the United States in 2008, and the percentage of PhD’s going into postdoctoral positions is increasing*
Some students do not need to apply for postdoctoral fellowships because their PI’s have funding for them. Others are not so fortunate, and they need to go through the bureaucracy and secure their own funding. On the flip side, the process of applying for postdoctoral funding gives students experience in grant writing, which is valued highly in academia. Since there are only limited numbers of agencies that grant postdoctoral fellowships in each field, most students only submit one or two applications.
I know that most PhD’s would rather start a job after graduation than do a postdoc, but my advice is to view your postdoctoral position as a unique career opportunity. Many graduate students are so focused on their dissertations that they do not have time to think about their career paths. While you will probably make half as much money as your friends in industry or tenure-track positions, a postdoctoral fellowship will allow you to:
- Explore different career options at workshops, seminars, and networking events
- Gain more marketable job skills
- Improve your publication record
- Increase your professional network through conferences and collaborations
So, where do you find postdoctoral opportunities? I listed a few online resources below, but your thesis advisor is probably the best person to talk to. He or she could recommend other groups whose research could compliment your experience, as well as places to apply for postdoctoral fellowships.
For more information and to connect with other postdocs, visit the National Postdoctoral Association at:
Of course, universities job bulletin’s and your field’s professional association are also excellent places to find postdoctoral listings.
Fellowships in the Social Sciences and Humanities:
You can find more information about postdocs PhDNet’s latest newsletter at: