Short Question: What to focus on for the academic-career hopeful average terminal PhD student?

Background: I am soon to finish a dual PhD focused on computer and cognitive science at an average university (programs around top 50 in the US). For many reasons (lacked focus and took too many courses, multiple advisors quitting, switching projects) I will have an average publication record. Advisors are somewhat famous but my relationship with them is lukewarm (due to having bounced around too much, nothing personal) to the point that I doubt I will get much beyond "good" recommendation letters (no access to their personal network or stellar letters).

I would like an academic career in cognition (others from my department were able to get jobs at small colleges / universities with similar records). Next step is probably a post-doc:

  • What should I look for when considering where to apply to post-docs?
  • How do I put my best foot forward when trying convince PIs that I am worth hiring? my only advantage is a strong computational background.
  • I was able to salvage my PhD by publishing good quality (and quantity) work last two years. What can I do beyond "keep publishing" that might encourage a hiring committee to look favourably on my application in two to four years? (yes, I completed a "teaching certificate", whatever help that might be).
  • 1
    What is a "terminal" PhD? It looks like you are applying for post-docs, so your PhD is not "terminal" in that sense. Do you just mean that you are nearing the end of your PhD studies?
    – cag51
    Oct 29 '21 at 2:14
  • Yes, people in my department use this term
    – user44874
    Oct 29 '21 at 2:19
  • 1
    Most PhDs publish their work in the last two years - this is entirely normal. (Some don't actually get many finalized until after their PhD.) Sounds to me like you are doing the right things and are in a reasonable position to get a position using your PhD. Maybe not at a university, but there are a number of other options.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 29 '21 at 13:02

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