Monday, April 8, 2013

Filtering postdoc application spam

Eric Bittner suggested I post about the following problem:

Pretty much every day I receive email solicitations from potential post-doc applicants (I presume you do as well).  Most of these look as if they are on some sort of fishing expedition since it's clear from their description of their research interests and expertise, they have not even bothered looking at any of my papers, read my web-site, or have any idea of what I might be working on.  As rude as it seems, my response is to give them the same amount of time they spent looking into my research before hitting the delete button on my email browser.  
I'm thinking of making a link on my  group page for potential post-doc applicants with a list of things--which would include a brief research outline in addition to their CV--that postdoc and grad students should send to potential advisors.
Does anyone who reads your forum have a better suggestion? What's the best (and polite) way to filter robo-postdocs? 
I probably only average one or two of these "applications" per week. I also just delete them. I doubt that putting a relevant link on the group web page will achieve much.

There is a flip side to this annoying problem. If you are interested in a postdoc with a faculty member and you send them a carefully crafted email which shows you have actually read some of their papers and thought about how you might fit into their research program it may actually get their attention.

In 1987 Phil Anderson wrote a Physics Today column on Advice on applying for a postdoc which does discuss related issues (before email!). Faculty need to guide their students through the process. Students need to be realistic, well-informed and focussed.

One thing I do find disturbing about all this. There are people who have "earned" a Ph.D but seem incapable of doing basic "research" about what kind of person might hire them.


  1. You say "a carefully crafted email". Where do we find the right balance between short enough that the potential supervisor will actually read it, and long enough that it says something about us that is worth reading?

  2. what about people who did real research and want to find a 1) better adviser 2) switch to an unrelated field.

    my research programme and background might have little to nothing to do with something cool you do that I'd like to do...maybe my home institution didn't have things which really excited me or I realized w/ experience that i'm more excited about other things.

  3. Any email that begins "Dear Esteemed Professor..." is rapidly headed for deletion from my inbox.

  4. In response to Nobody - perfectly fine - you would explain *why* you have decided to change fields and are writing to the person!