I have almost finished my PhD, and I'm looking for postdoc positions. I have found many of the job specifications mention having a good publication record, and some explicitly say the applicant should have impactful first author papers.

I currently have a first author review article and middle authorship on many original research papers (including several published during my PhD). My own original research paper(s) are 'in preparation' and most likely won't be published for another few months, i.e. after I hope to have secured the postdoc position. I have also presented my work at prestigious national and international conferences.

My question is, as a potential employer, how much weight would you actually put on publication record for a recent PhD? In particular, would you specifically be looking for first author papers, high impact journals etc? And if so, would this be a factor used to throw out applications at the initial stage, or would you consider such an applicant based on other merits?

Edited to add: The field I'm in is biomedical science.


3 Answers 3


I doubt that very many employers treat hiring post-docs as an accounting problem, counting up the chits. Instead, I would ask, how do your skills meet our needs? Some places with great reputations and heavy competition for positions want a way to encourage only the top candidates to apply, but even there, they have needs for skills that you may have, or not.

As in any application, stress your positives, your skills, and interests. If you get rejected then keep looking. The competition may be at a high level, but the evaluation is much more varied than just counting publications.


I agree with the other answer by Buffy in that post-doc positions will be looking for particular skills, although publication record is important too, and different post-doc positions are different. Some will be taking you on to do a particular project, others will expect you to be more independent.

Particularly for a more independent project, not having first-author papers might suggest you haven't quite gotten all the skills of the research process down (at least compared to the other candidates you will compete with). For other positions, though, it may simply be hard enough to find someone with your skills and it won't matter.

This is one situation where I would suggest including your in-progress work on your CV in some way. If you have presented it at conferences, include that with a note that the manuscript is in preparation.

However, you should also have a realistic view of publishing after you leave your PhD. If you are being hired as a post-doc, you are going to be expected to do work in your new lab. Post-docs are typically for short terms, and I wouldn't want to hire someone who plans to work on publishing three separate papers on the side during their first (and maybe only) year in my lab. I think this is a bigger potential problem than not having first-author papers on your CV.

I'm not sure what the reasons are for needing a few more months to get that work polished up, but I'd strongly suggest you put a huge emphasis on getting that work at least to a submittable form. It's one thing to work on some minor corrections once you've moved on, but having manuscripts not yet ready to submit could be a bit of a problem on both ends.


I think it depends a lot on what you did to get co-authorship on the papers. There are many reasons not to get to be first author on a paper. One type of reason is that you are not given the chance, either because of unhealthy lab environment, or because of competition, etc. Or you never were first author because you weren't able to take initiative.

Whatever the reason, if you interview for a serious research position, your supervisor will ask you and look over your recommendations to understand why you didn't get to be the main author.

As it happens, my best papers don't have me as lead author and I had no first author paper when I applied for my postdoc. Nonetheless, after the interviews, it became clear to the interviewers what was my part in the papers I co-authored, and I still got job offers.

I think what mattered more was the set of skills I possessed at graduation, rather than the bibliometrics. I'm sure they were suspicious of my ability to write papers, but somehow, they needed my skills more.

Sadly, my small number of first author papers was the reason of an unsuccessful grant application a few years ago. Someone looking for a good postdoc, might spend some time trying find out what are the real qualifications of an applicant by corroborating the interview answers, recommendation letter and track record. But, if you get to be evaluated by semi-qualified people, be certain they will count your first author papers.

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