Applying for Postdoc Fellowships

Students working in a lab at the Lewis Thomas lab. Photo by Princeton University, Office of Communications

In science and engineering, postdocs are growing in emphasis. They are often a prerequisite for faculty positions at Research I or top-tier liberal arts institutions. Social sciences and humanities postdocs exist as well, although they are somewhat less common. 

The Purpose of a Postdoc

A postdoctoral fellowship is a research appointment that offers you the opportunity to pursue, expand or deepen your scholarly research. It can also broaden your teaching experience, often with a lighter teaching load.

  • Length of engagement: Postdoctoral fellowships typically involve a fixed, 1–3 year commitment.
  • Setting: Postdocs are usually at a university or setting outside of your graduate institution, perhaps in government labs or departments.

Factors to Consider

A postdoc is not for everyone, but it can be a strong beginning to your post-graduate career. Here are some things to think about:

  • Your career goals: Is a postdoc required or something you want to pursue to prepare for an academic or industry position? 
  • Your interests: What kind of postdoc best serves your interests and goals?
  • Focus of research: Will you choose a postdoc in your current area of expertise, or one that expands your research into another field?
  • Location: Do you prefer a large research university or a smaller school?
  • Research facilities: What facilities and resources suit your research goals?
  • Principal Investigator (PI): What qualities in a PI/mentor are important? How will you assess and compare?