How To Get An Academic Job After Finishing Your PhD: A Mini Guide To Academic Job Search

Academic Job Search

How To Get An Academic Job After Finishing Your PhD: A Mini Guide To Academic Job Search

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This article was featured in the INOMICS Handbook 2017, a new career guide for Economists. Download it here.

When you're about to finish your PhD, it can be hard to know where to start looking for a job. If you want to stay in academia, then you'll need to find a postdoc position after you've finished your thesis and defended it. Today we're sharing this mini guide to finding an academic job and some tips on how to handle the process.

Fellowships, grants, and other sources of funding

For maximum autonomy and security, one of the most preferable options available to those who have finished their PhD is to secure their own funding. That means that you apply directly to a governmental or other organisation to obtain funding for your project idea, and if successful, the funding is allocated to your project and to you personally. The advantage of this is twofold: firstly, you can choose exactly what topic to research, and whatever methodologies or approaches that you think will be effective. There is great intellectual freedom in being able to set the course of your own research.

The second big advantage or having your own funding is the security which it offers. If you have funding, you will be in high demand and many departments will be happy to host you as a postdoc. You can pick the institution which best suits you and your project. Also, if things are not working out as you would wish at your institution, or if you decide to move to another city or country, then generally you will be able to transfer your funding with you. Knowing that you have 2-5 years of funding guaranteed frees you from financial stress and allows you to concentrate on your work. Finally, it is worth noting that having secured your own funding is highly regarded by hiring committees, as it demonstrates an ability to be successful in grant applications. Having won your own funding will be a great strength on your CV when you come to apply for other academic roles in the future.

Finding a fellowship

You will find fellowships and other kinds of postdoc funding offered by governmental organisations, professional groups, and charities and non-profits. However, as this type of funding is so desirable, there are often a large number of applicants per grant available. The process of applying for the funding and having your application assessed can also take a long time – up to six months in some cases.

For these reasons, it's a good idea to start applying for funding early, either before you complete your PhD or soon after. The application process for fellowships generally involves you first thinking up an idea for a project, preferably a project which is a natural extension of your PhD work. That way, you can demonstrate to the funders that you have already acquired the necessary skills to perform the project during your PhD, and show that you are an expert in your topic. For most applications you'll need to produce a research proposal outlining your project idea, along with other documents like a statement of your interest in the work and a description of how your project fits into the aims of the funding organisation. It's common for researchers to think up a project and then to use that one project as a basis for applying to a number of different fellowships. So once you have done one application, you can modify the materials which you have created for your other applications too. 

You can find lots more information about this in our guide to applying for a postdoc grant or fellowship.

Applying for advertised postdoc positions

Another option for academic employment after the PhD is to apply for advertised positions. When professors need support in planning and performing their own research, in teaching undergraduates and masters students, or in supervising PhD students, they will advertise for postdoc positions. You can find advertisements for such positions on university websites and academic job portals – take a look at the postdoc jobs section here on Inomics, for example. You should also check the websites of professional organisations for your field, where there may be information about currently hiring positions. A useful way of hearing about new postdoc jobs as soon as they become available is to sign up to email mailing lists for university departments or for specific academic topics.

If you're hoping to land a postdoc position, however, you shouldn't limit yourself to searching online. It's also helpful to get the word out to your professional network that you are looking for a work. Former colleagues, supervisors, lecturers, and your fellow students may know of opportunities that would suit you, and may be willing to pass your name along to the hiring professor. Having someone who knows you and your work recommend you for a position can be a great advantage in helping you to get hired. You should also be on the lookout at conferences, lectures, and other academic events. If you know that there will be someone attending who you are interested in working for, do go and introduce yourself to them and let them know about your work. Take a look at our guide to networking in academia for more tips about this.

Typically, postdoc positions are fixed-term contracts of around 2 years, meaning that after the end of the contract period you will have to find another job. You may have to be willing to relocate in order to find the postdoc job that you want. If you are willing to move around your country, or even to move abroad, then your chances of securing a position will be higher.

Other Types of Academic Jobs

As well as fellowships and postdoc positions, there are other available jobs within academia for those who have completed a PhD. Typically such positions will involve teaching, technical work such as configuring research equipment, or possibly some amount of administrative work such as setting and marking exams. The exact nature of these jobs varies between countries, and they will vary in their title, duties, stability, and benefits. In Britain, for example, it is common to find Lecturer positions advertised. These are full-time, well-paid teaching posts and are well respected, and are suitable for exceptional PhD students who have already gained some teaching experience. These positions can be competitive as you will be applying alongside people who have already done postdoc jobs, but for the right person they can be an excellent opportunity.

In the United States, on the other hand, there are many adjunct faculty positions available. These are teaching positions, but are usually poorly paid and do not have benefits like health insurance or paid sick leave. Adjunct positions may be zero-hours, meaning that there are no guarantees of how much work will be available, and that adjuncts are employed on a semester-to-semester basis. Adjuncts often work at two or more universities, teaching courses wherever work is available. The combination of low pay and poor job security makes working as an adjunct a difficult option for most people, especially those who have student debts to pay off.

A further option for working in academia post-PhD is to take on several part-time roles. This is a useful compromise for those who are unable to relocate for work or who need work while they are searching for a full-time role. Part-time roles could include teaching full courses, covering lessons for other lecturers while they are away, exam marking, writing course syllabi, or acting as student support.


From these options, you should be able to tailor your job search to find the right position for you after you finish your PhD. But don't forget that there are lots of job options for academics outside of academia too. To see the latest postdoc positions available at universities around the world, head to our postdoc jobs section here on INOIMICS.

Photo Credit: Flickr @steve p2008


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