So let me elaborate on this question a bit with an imaginary scenario: John is a young, recent Ph.D. graduate in computer science. During his Ph.D. he was mainly concentrating on network science and algorithms, but he has developed a deep interest in computational social science, a related but not that closely related field. He wants to get deeper into this and even perhaps change his primary area to computational social science, but he may not be prepared for this. He has read sufficient materials and research work about this, and the required technology/math for him is not difficult, but he hasn't done any real research on this subject.

So in this scenario, what should a young scholar like John do if he/she is really dedicated to making some contributions? Please note, that we are talking about a young scientist, not a tenured professor who has much more freedom.

A postdoc is certainly an option, but how likely is John getting a postdoc position since it's not his primary research area?


1 Answer 1


Your best hope for getting a postdoc position in a related field where you don't have much expertise is when there's a valid quid pro quo (mutualistic relationship) between you and your postdoc advisor. They need to get a project done. You need a paycheck, and the opportunity for training in a different field. If you can fill in a key piece of the project (especially an interdisciplinary project that overlaps your area), then it's a win-win situation.

You might even benefit from going even farther afield, to a social science group that is not particularly computational but wants to introduce a computational component in a project (if they were already computational, they might not need your help). Or find a computational social science group that really needs to "up their game" in computational aspects of network analysis.

This also assumes that you are a flexible person who will be able to pick up the necessary frameworks largely by osmosis and self-study (with the advantage of being embedded in a social science research group); your postdoc advisor probably doesn't want to have you spending half your time taking remedial coursework ...

The more valuable your existing skills are to someone in the new field, the better your bargaining position.

  • 2
    I realize this is written with advice for "you", not the hypothetical "John". I can change it if anyone cares ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Aug 9, 2020 at 2:11

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