I would like to ask for advice regarding the search for postdoc.

First a bit of background. I got my 3-years PhD in February in mathematics (applied math + numerical analysis). I am disappointed because I did not do anything important: I studied a specific numerical method with a code that was already developed (a very complex fluid code) before and then I used the method to study a physical problem (actually running a lot of simulations and analyzing the results). For that last part, I also used some ideas from dynamical systems but again nothing new. The approach however was new but it was not even mine. It was my supervisors. In the end, my thesis was in computational fluid dynamics. I got 2 publications plus 1 procceeding from this thesis, but they were all in engineering-like journals.

Back to the present. After the above experience I had a change of heart. I want to find a postdoc in applied math where I can study a problem more rigorously, but I love working in interdisciplinary subjects like biology, neuroscience, physics, fluid dynamics. The problem is I am too much of an engineer for the mathematicians. I applied to three postdoc positions and was rejected at all three.

My actual fear here is that I cannot undo the mistake I did during my PhD. How can I persuade someone to take me as a postdoc in another area/field without strong publication record? Even if I have failed I really want to continue working in research. I love science and the learning process.

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    Did you have interviews for any of the three positions? If not, you need to improve your CV, research statement etc. If you did, focus on interview technique. By the way, applying for only three jobs is setting yourself up to fail. In some (all?) fields, applying to 20+ would not be uncommon. Jun 2, 2021 at 8:25
  • @astronat no interview, they just rejected me through e-mail. I think my documents where actually good ( I gave then to another person to check them too) but in any case I always customize them for each post-doc. I do plan to apply for more positions.
    – Riri
    Jun 2, 2021 at 8:50
  • It's a numbers game, as @astronat suggests, get those applications out. Have a colleague be a critical second set of eyes for what you're sending. You don't want to sell yourself short. Also, if you're by nature interdisciplinary-minded, hint at some ideas to explore that a potential program might benefit from. Regarding a "bad PhD," you make of it what you can, that was your responsibility. Jun 2, 2021 at 13:54
  • Are you happy to continue researching in the same area? If so, you should probably check out the academics who publish papers close to your own. See if they have any positions or whether there are opportunities to apply for grants with them.
    – Rammus
    Jun 2, 2021 at 14:35
  • Update: I finally got a position for 1,5 years on a quite different topic.
    – Riri
    Mar 27, 2022 at 10:17

2 Answers 2


I applied to three postdoc positions and was rejected at all three.

This is probably the heart of the problem. It's not uncommon to make 30-50 applications. A friend of mine doing physics got an offer after about 35 applications (and about 10 of those interviewed her). She was a theoretical physicist.

I would also speculate that you may be better off applying for postdocs that match your current publications, (fluid dynamics?), and voicing your interest in pursuing some more rigorous applied maths work at interview. If they offer you the place they will likely be happy for you to engage in that in addition to the primary role. This would offer you a smooth transition.

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    I am actually following your suggestion. I will update my post as long as I see some light at the end of the tunnel!
    – Riri
    Jun 18, 2021 at 15:30
  • 1
    @Riri Good luck! It's a long process, I hope you get a place you like in the end.
    – Clumsy cat
    Jun 18, 2021 at 15:46

I got 2 publications plus 1 proceeding from this thesis.

I don't understand (but Math is also not where I did research) how this would be considered a weak publication record.

  • Examine yourself for "imposter syndrome". It's a common feeling that you are somehow a fraud in your field, because you realize just how much there is to still learn in the field, and you feel that your learning didn't cover nearly enough. If that's you, welcome to the club, most people encounter this if they truly perform, and like most things it goes away by not fretting over it and getting down to work.

If on the rare chance that you really graduated without developing the necessary skills, then still attempt the work while doing extra work to strengthen the areas you're weak in.

Those are the most likely options to success, the rest of the options typically look like "bide your time hoping that things change" and "quit"

Good luck, and if you got your PhD, odds are you are as competent as many other PhDs. Take trust in that; but, if you really need some skill, then shop around for the opportunities to gain that skill.

  • A lot of people in academia suffer from this syndrome. I suspect that I am no exception. I have started studying more technical works in the area I want to apply for postdoc now and I follow online conferences or seminars to cover my gaps. This is a good advice and thank you for you kind words.
    – Riri
    Jun 18, 2021 at 15:32

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