I recently completed my PhD in mechanical engineering and have been applying for postdocs in neuroscience for the past 5 months.

My field is dynamical systems theory and statistics, so I look up professors working in neuroscience who use those techniques and send them emails. I have sent 3 dozen emails since February but I barely get any responses.

I got two interview requests in February. One of them rejected me. The other professor stopped replying to my emails after the first interview and he did not pay my interview travelling expenses either.

Sometimes it feels very hopeless. Please, please any recommendations, help or advice is very appreciated; especially from people who have changed their research area post-PhD.

This is my Cover letter.

Hi Dr. F,
I am writing apply for the postdoctoral position in your lab at Columbia. My training is in the domain of dynamical and nonlinear systems theory (primarily in mechanical systems) and I am interested in bridging to Neuroscience for my postdoctoral research.

My interest in the brain goes back almost a decade to my undergraduate years when I took up a regular meditation practice. I am very interested in the broad and mechanistic aspects of neural computation. I am fascinated by the application of concepts such as dynamical systems, stochastic modelling and network theory to the study of the brain.

I completed my PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the Some University under the advisement of Dr. Advisor (June 2018 Conferral). I have worked on a wide variety of problems so far - powering micro-implants in brain using arterial blood pressure, stochastic analysis of nonlinear vibration energy harvesters, the spontaneous spinning of a rattleback on a vibrating surface, sound wave manipulation in fluids, tunable mechanical metamaterials and nonlinear metamaterials. I currently have 3 published manuscripts, 2 journal papers in peer review and 1 manuscript in preparation. I have published 9 peer-reviewed conference papers. During my PhD, I have worked on collaborative research projects with senior faculty and also as a mentor to several undergraduate students. I previously earned a Bachelors and Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur (Class of 2013).

I am fascinated by > your recent research contributions. I really liked the paper titled " Abstract Context Representations in Primate Amygdala and Prefrontal >Cortex" that used neural population decoders to show that representations of task contexts appeared in the Amygdala in addition to the PFC. Also intriguing was the preferential weakening of the signal in the Amygdala when an error was committed. I also liked you paper titled "Energy efficient Neuromorphic classifiers" that implemented a basic image classifier on a novel neuromorphic processor and demonstrated significantly lesser energy and computational cost.

During my postdoc, I intend to apply for fellowships and possible avenues of funding. I am interested in using my training in dynamical systems and stochastic analysis to current research problems in neuroscience and hone my technical skill-set to succeed in my future independent research. My CV is attached. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for further inquiries.

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    Are you emailing specifically people in neuroscience doing dynamic systems theory? Do you read enough neuroscience in the area to be conversant? Are you sending professionally formatted emails (note: your question here is not professionally formatted by StackExchange's conventions)? Do you have any evidence that the professors you are emailing might be looking for a post doc? – Bryan Krause May 16 '18 at 21:12
  • @BryanKrause, Yes more or less, I email people working more in the Physics or engineering side of things. And yes, not all my emails are to people who advertise directly on their labs but atleast 50% of my emails are to people who do advertise. – NadaBrothers May 17 '18 at 17:43
  • @BryanKrause, I have added my Cover letter. Any advice/ comments? – NadaBrothers May 17 '18 at 18:20
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    I know someone, who did a postdoc in anatomy and cell biology after a PhD in physics after a MSc in biology. Nothing is impossible! – Oleg Lobachev May 17 '18 at 19:35
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    I'd also add that your comments about their research are good enough to indicate that you've spent some time looking at their abstracts, but there's nothing there that indicates you can do more than that. I think it's going to be a real uphill battle looking for a position without previous biological experience, unless you find a group that is particularly in need of your skills or already had substantial overlap with the work you've already done. – Bryan Krause May 21 '18 at 22:34

I have the same issue, I recently completed my Ph.D. in computer science. Accordingly, I have applied several times for post-doc positions around the world and I was able to get only three interviews. Unfortunately, none of them was willing to give me the post-doc position.

Based on my short experience, it will be better to submit your application for a Fellowship with peer review process such as Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme. Open up to the world (China!).

Best wishes.


You'd get a much better reception applying for positions with biomed engineers who do neuroscience. It's not all the way to your goal, but it is about three quarters of the way there - a big step in the right direction.


A different approach seeks to demonstrate your interest and comprehension of the material first: read his/her most recent papers thoroughly and email with great questions and comments. PI’s love to talk about their research. If you can engage them a bit that way first, a later appeal asking if they’re accepting students will be given more consideration. Keep the emails short and to the point - an unexpected long email like yours may just get sent to trash.

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