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I am a PhD student working in applied probability theory. I have submitted my PhD thesis and started to apply for postdoc positions.

Is it OK to ask a professor whether they have a position available? If so, what should such an e-mail contain?

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Yes, it is fine. It never hurts to ask. Some people will ignore you, but some people will reply.

  • In such case please suggest what to write in such email. Should I write in detail why I want to work in his/her lab. – RIchard Williams Feb 10 '18 at 2:36
  • @Richard Williams Write when you're going to completely finish with your PhD, what you've been working on (preferably, this should overlap considerably with that persons research interests), perhaps include your CV. – Alexey B. Feb 10 '18 at 15:25
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I advise you to have this conversation in person and not via email.

When you are face to face with this professor you will be able to read their body language. If you ask the question and they appear annoyed or uncomfortable then just end the conversation quickly and politely. If, however, you see they show interest, then you may inquire further.

When setting up the initial meeting, you can write a simple email stating who you are and asking what times the professor is available to speak with you.

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    What kind of policies would prevent the prof from saying they have an open position? – henning -- reinstate Monica Feb 9 '18 at 16:13
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    If the professor is far away from you, it’s not worth it to try to have the conversation in person. You could try to do it via videoconference, but you’d still have to set that up via email, and explain why you want the meeting! – aeismail Feb 9 '18 at 19:07
  • @aeismail Videoconferencing is a good option. Yes, of course you would have to set that up via email. (I revised my response above) – techmsi Feb 9 '18 at 19:20
  • @henning I have heard of a situation where the professor was not "allowed"(as the story was relayed to me) to mention an open position until it was officially posted. – techmsi Feb 9 '18 at 19:23
  • @techmsi In that case, the professor could still reply by email: "I have requested to hire a postdoc for next year, but the position has not yet been approved. Please check back again in [some time]." – JeffE Feb 11 '18 at 4:22

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