What is the best way to approach professors when looking for a Post-Doc position ? Are there any particular search tools for this type of position ?

I found a similar question on this website: How to maximise one's chances of getting a good postdoc position?

My question is more directed towards the way one should contact potential advisors, specially if they are in foreign countries and a face-to-face meeting is not possible. Is it better to contact directly the Professor or rather contact fellow PhD/PostDocs of that laboratory ? Is an e-mail sufficient or should you try to contact that person through tools like LinkedIn or ResearchGate ?

What would be a good time to do so ? 3 months, 6 months, a year before finishing the PhD ?

Should one be specific on what you would like to work on or rather general so that more possibilities are available ?

I guess this is a really open discussion topic where there is not a "correct" answer, so feel free to share your personal views and experience.

2 Answers 2


Context: I'm not in mechanical engineering, but am a potential post doc advisor.

Remember: ootential advisors are (almost) always on the lookout for good people, even when they don't have money to hire them, because they always have grants submitted, so any time soon they may receive another grant.

It is fine to contact potential advisors directly, but beware that they will receive many such emails, including many that are easily considered as SPAM, due to their impersonal and indirect nature. This means that your emails need to be personal, and they need to quickly establish what you do and what value you could be to the potential advisor, for instance by finding a real connection with their research.

Having a concrete research proposal is also a valuable idea, but beware that a potential advisor may not be interested in supervising a topic that is outside their core research focus.

Contacting a potential advisor 3 months in advance would put you in the running for any positions that the advisor may have open.

Contacting a potential advisor 6 months in advance might be a way of putting your name in the advisor's mind, but it would probably be too early to actually get a position. That said, the advisor may have applied for some funding, and this may come available after those 6 months. Then having your name in the advisor's mind would be a good thing.

Contacting a potential advisor 12 months before you finish might be useful if there is a funding opportunity that you both could apply for.

Of course, contacting the potential advisor 3 months before you finish might lead to an opportunity 12 months down the track, and so on.

  • I find that the information regarding application times is hard to obtain, so thank you for the valuable advice !
    – Nicolas
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 19:22
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    @Nicolas: From my experience (in 3 European countries), hiring times for post-docs closely follows the dates when the results of grant applications are made known. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 20:09
  • How can an applicant be aware of this dates? Professors generally do not advertise postdoc positions and the Grants they have applied for funding even less... For example, here in Canada, I believe Grants are often attributed in March (at least from the government), but there is no information on which grant the professor/potential advisor applied for.
    – Nicolas
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 20:17
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    You can look at the web pages for the various funding agencies. These generally have relevant dates. Of course you cannot know of whether any specific professor submitted an application, but you will at least know when possible opportunities may arise. Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 20:24
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    @DaveClarke: Not all countries have funding deadlines. Germany and Switzerland, for instance, allow applications at any time, although some larger programs are only announced at certain intervals. More importantly, though, in Mech E it is rare to "bring your own proposal," since positions are usually tied to projects.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 21:06

Nicholas, I am a mechanical engineering PhD and have had success applying for post-doc positions. Here is my profile (which may be relevant):

  • Not the best publication record in peer reviewed journals
  • High throughput of papers at peer reviewed conferences (ASME-IMECE, ASME-HTC, APS DFD) and some allied niche meetings (Wolfram conferences, Suborbital researchers conferences)
  • Significant teaching experience (teaching labs, undergraduate courses and graduate level courses since the opportunity presented itself).

Now with my profile in mind, I applied to Post doc positions more than 12 months in advance of my graduation date. I applied for post doc positions in early to mid 2012 in anticipation that I would join or receive a positive job offer for early 2013 and mid/late 2013.

When approaching professors through their emails or through post doc adverts, this is what I focused on:

  • All my applications were via email to either the Professor/PI or through post doc websites such as academicKeys, MathJobs or CFD Jobs and similar others.
  • All my applications leveraged my ability to churn out conference worthy results and my teaching skills and how they related to time management.
  • In all cases, if I thought that my research was particularly relevant to the position I was applying to, I included a "snippet" of a figure or plot from my research in the cover letter and described it's applicability to the job.
  • In some cases I also included that I was available to have a conversation via a telecon/videocon/skype meeting and a good 10-15% of the PIs responded to it by having a chat with me.

The last two bullet points resulted in a 100% success rate for me.

  • Having a web/video interview definitely seems like a good idea, for both Professor and Student ! Thanks for the tips.
    – Nicolas
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 19:20

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