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I made a mistake 5 years ago. I changed my field from materials science to civil engineering. I did a PhD under a professor whose research expertise was not in my research topic. I had to independently work on my knowledge and skill set to become productive and produce research. But, due to lack of technical guidance, I produced mediocre research. My research is very novel and rigorous for my field of research, but the scope of getting a future position in the field seems bleak.

I want to diversify to other area of research, but I don't possess the experience or knowledge to carry out the projects. I am getting rejections from all postdoc positions as I don't meet their requirements.

I don't know what I should be doing now? My adviser doesn't have any connections in my research area. She just says to keep trying, and to not lose heart.

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    I don't understand how it can be both "mediocre" and also "very novel and rigorous for your field". – Buffy Aug 26 '19 at 15:57
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    You need a different advisor, who does have an understanding of what you're doing, and does have suitable name-recognition in that field so that they can both write an insightful letter of recommendation for you, and have it taken seriously. – paul garrett Aug 26 '19 at 21:19
  • @Buffy It’d be possible to write papers that are both novel and rigorous, but fail to get citations or a sufficiently high impact factor or whatever other performance indicators that his institution uses to measure research quality. – nick012000 Aug 29 '19 at 6:41
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First of all note that your experience has probably made you a lot more independent than many of your peers. This is a desirable quality for a post-doc, and you should sell it. If you have produced any a single author publications (which sounds likely in your scenario), this is again something you should emphasize.

As a second piece of advice, consider applying for a suitable post-doc fellowship. Advertised post-doc positions are often bound to specific funded projects, therefore a PI will be more inclined to hire somebody with proven expertise to work on that project, putting somebody switching (sub)fields after their PhD at disadvantage.

Postdoctoral fellowship applications allow you to put more emphasis on your individual qualities and allow you to tailor a research proposal to your combination of expertise. You would (in most cases) still need to find a suitable host for your fellowship, but this may be easier than getting them to hire you as a postdoc (it is relatively low risk for the host). Of course, you should be warned that many fellowships have a very low acceptance rate. (10% acceptance rate is not uncommon for many grants, although some have rates as high as 30%) So, you need to submit a very strong application.

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arbitt, you have a strong track history of working independently and persisting despite the lack of supervision and structure that others have had. Unfortunately changing fields is tough and you would be unlikely to land a post-doc or scholarship in the new area as mmeent has said.

You would need to build your reputation and scholarship in the new field independently. Aim to collaborate and network with the new field that you are interested in. Attend important conferences and organize to meet the important scholars in the questions that you are able to develop independently. Hopefully, you are able to develop the skills in the new area and be able to land the post-docs in the future.

Edit: I may have misread your question. I thought you were only applying in the new field that you were interested in rather than in your current field that your PhD is on. If you are not landing a postdoc in your current field, then that is a very different question and issue to address.

  • I’m not sure how helpful an answer “do a postdoc in your current field” is when their question is about how they can’t find a postdoc position in their field. – nick012000 Aug 29 '19 at 6:38
  • You are right, "all postdoc" was the question, for some reason I read it as all postdocs in the new field that they are interested in rather than in their original field. – Poidah Aug 29 '19 at 6:51

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