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I intend to apply for a call for a postdoctoral position. Is it necessary to contact professors before sending my application formally? If so, which documents should be sent? Is my CV enough or should I also send a research statement?

My field is mathematics and I am applying to positions in France and Italy.

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It's unclear if you mean cold-emailing professors for positions, or if you're planning to utilize the network that you've built from publishing and attending conferences.

I would highly recommend emailing other academics you've meet a conference that are already familiar with your work and letting them recommend postdocs to you.

Cold-emailing is unlikely to help much as professors are inundated with emails from prospective students who want a leg-up on acceptance, and your email is likely to get lost in the clutter.

EDIT:

The last sentence was unclear. By cold-emailing, I meant looking up the email of the hiring manager/professor for the postdoc and sending them a follow-up email.

Most professors receive HUNDREDS of legitimate emails every day from the students they teach and advise, journal/conference submission request, other professors, or their side consulting business. A "cold-email" is likely to get relegated to the spam box.

  • It sounds like the OP is applying for a postdoc that was advertised by a specific researcher. Cold emailing a thoughtful question about the position is not the same as cold-emailing a professor who has not advertised a postdoc position [we all get many ridiculous unsolicited emails to work in our labs]. If you are a good fit for the position they advertised, they will likely reply if you have a genuine question. – WetlabStudent Apr 8 '18 at 10:16
  • Probably should have made the last sentence more explicit. By cold-emailing, I meant emailing the hiring professor. Especially if the postdoc is at a university, the professor likely receives HUNDREDS of emails a day, many of those will require attention. – sevensevens Apr 11 '18 at 14:41
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I absolutely agree to what @sevensevens says about using your contacts you made through conferences and through your advisor or research group during your PhD. You have a much higher chance of getting a response from those contacts (any kind of response, be it positive or negative). I will talk about the case of when you are applying to public postdoc offers published on newsgroups, research group or university websites, and what @sevensevens calls "cold e-mails".

When I was applying to postdocs (computer science, two in question were in the UK - but I would've likely done same regardless of the country), I did send a couple of e-mails, in one case before, in the other case with the application. I think what @sevensevens says is mostly true; it is not likely to help much. I like to think of it as an equivalent of a follow-up phone call after dropping in your job application: polite, if it's short and timed correctly, but unlikely to make a big difference.

That is also how I would recommend phrasing it. Mine was a two-sentence e-mail, no attachments, along the lines:

I have just finished my PhD on topic X and am currently in a short-term post-doc doing Y. I am very interested to your open post-doc offer on topic Z as I think it matches my research interests well, and have submitted an application for it.

Try and phrase X, Y, Z in a way that shows as much understanding in the postdoc and research group you are applying to, but keep it short.

The other e-mail, which I sent before sending in the application, was due to the fact that the position was not a full-blown postdoc, but rather a short one-year position requiring less qualifications, nonetheless in a topic where I could see an even better match to my research. I sent a similar e-mail, additionally asking if I should still apply due to my (over)qualifications.

The result: I got a response to both e-mails. One of them was a short "Thank you, I will look over your application.", and the other encouraged me to apply. I ended up being offered the short-term position, while not the other one; but I attribute that to the topic match and my CV as sent with the application and doubt the e-mails made a great difference. And the short-term position developed in a full-blown postdoc which extended beyond the initial year.

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I disagree with most of the posts here. I am postdoc hunting and contacting professors I want to work with by mentioning that I am sending an application has helped me a lot. I am even applying to another field that is not my PhD one and I've even gotten Skype chats from top schools. The key is to pay attention what they are doing as research and selling them a well thought proposal. Don't just sell your qualifications, you need to tell them you are creative and have initiative, thats why you should come up with a well thought plan. If they are interested, they often follow up and will back you. A format similar to this has worked for me.

Dear Dr. (professor),

I am applying to (postdoc posting), and I am contacting you because I wish to join your research group since you do X and Y.

My skills and training are (describe PhD experience and why it links to the professor's interests).

I want to work in (describe proposal in a couple of sentences), which is important because (reasons).

In the case you are interested I will attach my CV and a draft research proposal.

Looking forward to your reply.

Regards (your name)

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