So, I am about to gain my PhD degree in Biochemistry (Cancer biochemistry) in december. But I'll have finished it only with 2 papers (3rd one, which is the one totally about my thesis project is due but i don't know when it will be published exactly, not before couple of months for sure. But neither in this paper I'm the first author)

The reason for that, I've been doing my PhD in a foreign european country (english is not really well-spoken here, neither by my thesis advisor nor laboratory colleagues, i even had to learn their language to be able to communicate the people better during my years here) and I had started with a professor who had offered me a fellowship grant & scholarship. But since it was his last year prior to obligatory retirement due to his age, he was unfortunately too busy with extending his period in the department, and therefore in the first year we had no positive results with his not well-studied project.

For the second year he sent me to one of his collaborator's laboratory from another department of our university, new project was really good and I obtained good results, I highly contributed to the upcoming paper, but the problem is in that laboratory they had already started to that project and the first authorships were already assigned to 2 researchers, the post-doc and another phd student from that lab. So obviously (unfortunately) they didn't even consider giving me the 3rd first authorship of the paper, because they kind of acted as I was even blessed to be included in the project and that was enough. I was the only foreigner phd in that lab as well, as I know they never had one before neither. It has even been quite sad that being the only foreigner researcher in the lab with the best english language level, i couldn't even get a first author title because of "political" reasons.

So the thing is, I know that I'm capable and learned lots of techniques through my phd and had a good phd thesis, but unfortunately when you don't have a first authorship title, in academia it is almost impossible to find a post-doctoral position..

What would you suggest me for such situation? I'm so keen on continuing in academia, I don't want that unlucky situation -which was out of my control- to steal my future. Do you think it's a good idea if I apply for post-doc positions abroad (this time for sure US, i want only an English-spoken country) in any case and mention about the reasons why I couldn't get a first-author paper? Or it won't be even taken into consideration?

I will highly appreciate any kind of suggestion, thanks in advance.

  • Well, I needed to give the details, because if I had simply written "I will finish my phd with only 2 papers" this wouldn't have been clear enough, I tried to emphasize that it was not my failure or irresponsibility or bad work but only lack of luck. Which is obviously the main idea of the question, "Can I explain to the post-doc position offers that situation" and if I can, what kind of approach would be helpful. Oct 31, 2019 at 2:29
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    You should tell employers what is good about your work, and leave out complaints about what you didn't like. This shows maturity. Oct 31, 2019 at 2:33
  • My point is not to complain, my point is not to leave any question marks for the professors who will receive my application. Even though I state my skills, wouldn't he/she question "why this applicant doesn't have any first authorship/just has 2/3 co-authorship?" I'm just trying to solve that issue, I don't want that a professor sees my cv and when he/she checks the publication list just leaves it. Oct 31, 2019 at 2:38
  • The bitter truth is that the difference you can make with your application letter might be limited. Hiring the wrong person for the job can be an expensive mistake. Therefore, a hiring PI wants to see evidence that you're capable of producing results; otherwise, hiring you would be a risky decision. Oct 31, 2019 at 10:57
  • This is the thing, I actually produced good data, but for political reasons they didn't leave me a chance to be one of the first authors in the paper of the project I worked for. It's so unfair that because of other people my career/my future is being destroyed. Oct 31, 2019 at 16:28

1 Answer 1


One suggestion I can provide is to try and make it to a, related to what you're interested in doing for a post-doc, conference and network. Hopefully present some good work and meet PI's you might be interested in working with, you're far more likely to get an interview or offer if they have a face to put with the application.

If it's too late for a conference, you could and should try to leverage your advisors connections. A good letter of recommendation / Introduction can go a lot further than an lengthy CV, especially if your advisor is known and respected in the field.

I personally used the first method when applying to a postdoc. Having met my eventual post-doc advisor at conferences. When I was applying I had 3 not first author papers and two in preparation first authors (which languished on my PhD advisors desk 2-3 years after I graduated).

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    Yes - you need to work your network. As @lighthousekeeper mentioned in comments above, making the wrong hire is an expensive mistake. A good rec letter addresses that point directly, helping to fill the gap caused by lack of 1st-author pubs. Jul 28, 2020 at 3:45

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