In Europe, typically postdocs are hired to work under a professor's research group. This appears to be totally different in the US and some other countries (e.g. Israel), where postdocs are hired by committees. Suppose a hiring committee has 7 members. Are postdoctoral applicants expected to make the case that they are going to work closely and share research interests with at least one of the 7 professors? Let me give a hypothetical scenario from math. Let's say that some candidate for a postdoc just got a paper accepted to the Annals, the topic being Moufang polygons. Nobody on the committee (which consists of a number theorist, a representation theorist, an algebraic geometer, a logician, an analyst, and 2 applied mathematicians) really cares about Moufang polygons. Will the prevailing opinion be, "This is a very strong applicant working in an area that nobody in this department has worked on. Let's pick him/her." Or will they think, "Gee, this person won't interact with the faculty at all since his/her research interests don't overlap." I'm trying to clarify the exact role of a postdoc in the U.S.

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    It's not uncommon in the US for a postdoc to be hired into a position funded by one professor's grant with the expectation that they'll work largely on that grant. In other cases, postdocs are funded by larger research institutes or academic departments with much more freedom for the postdoc to work on projects with many collaborators. There's really no narrow job description that all postdocs fit into. – Brian Borchers Mar 19 at 4:48
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    If this is about math, you should mention that in the title. Math postdocs are often totally different from physics postdocs. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 19 at 7:37
  • There is not a single correct answer here. It depends on the position (even if you are only asking about math postdocs). – David Ketcheson Mar 19 at 9:16
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    One data point (but I conjecture others are similar): In my department, postdoc hiring decisions are made by the department's executive committee. Postdocs have official supervisors, but these need not be members of the executive committee. Before making an offer to a postdoc candidate, the executive committee will make sure there's at least one regular faculty member willing to supervise that candidate. How closely the postdoc and supervisor collaborate is for them to work out and probably varies quite a lot. – Andreas Blass Mar 19 at 22:59