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I'm a theoretical physicist. I really like to code and come up with (efficient) solutions to math and physics problems. I do not particularly care if this is in subfield A or B. After all, the programming part of the job became my passion, yet I still like the relation to the science field.

I'm am interested in physics. I find myself often going down the rabbit hole to truly understand how and why certain things work and how I could improve/develop it further. But again, this is universal and I don't fancy a particular area. I like field X in physics, but in the end, I'll probably be fine with any subfield.

How should I market myself in applications for postdoc positions? What you usually find as advice is to say "I'm particularly interested in your group because you study X with focus on Y and recent paper Z was highly interesting". However, saying (oversimplified) "I really like to code and your advertised positions matches that. Also I like the location of your university." does not seem like the most captivating way of selling myself. Any advice?

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    On the face of it, this sounds like a bad plan. And a very poor career plan in academia. Even in CS there is more than "coding".
    – Buffy
    Nov 30 '21 at 16:05
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    What's your career status? Are you currently a PhD student? Nov 30 '21 at 16:11
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    I'm not sure (hence a comment and not an answer) but I think it's to your advantage to say what you said in this question and your comment above: that you're interested in physics, that you like to absorb yourself in a topic, and that you're also passionate about coding and think the position will suit that. The reason is that if they're looking for someone with that profile it will give you an advantage, and if they're not then you might not have enjoyed the job so much. Job seeking is about selling yourself, but it's also about finding a position that will be a good fit for what you want.
    – N. Virgo
    Dec 1 '21 at 1:22
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    From what you describe, you sound a lot like I did in grad school. I wound up getting a job as a software developer at a tech company, completely unrelated to physics, and I love it; I definitely feel like I'm doing the right thing more than I ever did in academia. So I'd suggest you put the option of switching careers to software engineering on the table, as an alternative to getting a postdoc and continuing on the research track. (But of course this question isn't the place to discuss that alternative.)
    – David Z
    Dec 1 '21 at 4:07
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    You might fit under the research software engineer title:"Research Software Engineers are people who combine professional software expertise with an understanding of research. They go by various job titles but the term Research Software Engineer (RSE) is fast gaining international recognition.". I recommend this website and the communities linked to find more information.
    – llrs
    Dec 1 '21 at 9:48
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I do not particularly care if this is in sub-field A or B. Afterall, the programming part of the job became my passion, yet I still like the relation to the science field.

If this is true, you might want to consider looking for jobs in "research computing" rather than looking for a conventional postdoc. Many larger institutions have a "research computing" unit dedicated to supporting researchers in projects that require a lot of computing know-how. For example, such offices exist at:

In contrast, the PIs who are reading postdoc applications will generally view coding as a means to an end; they are looking to answer questions about the natural world, rather than find elegant solutions to computer problems. A post-doc is supposed to be able to figure out new research directions and interesting new questions to ask; and saying "I don't care where the questions come from" will not give a PI much confidence in your ability to do this.

A job in research computing probably does mean an exit from the "track" that leads from graduate student to postdoc to professor; and so a career move like this may make it difficult to return to the "pure research" track in the future. So consider it carefully.

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    National labs are also great for these positions! Dec 1 '21 at 21:41
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    I've done my masters in high performance computing, and there was a number of people with physics background that needed to learn our approaches so their computations would actually finish in a decent amount of time (say hours/couple days). That would include but not be limited to coding a problem in a specific language, or learning a framework that would allow a single program to run in tens of different computers. Coding was required, but knowledge of the domain is also required. Just mentioning if that could be your case. (BTW this was before AWS, now you could do in hundreds of PCs).
    – Fabio
    Dec 2 '21 at 4:32
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Your job application is about how you will provide what your employer wants. It is not about what you want. Talk about your coding achievements, not your preferences, in an application.

Your preferences are important when choosing which jobs to apply for. This does not seem to be your problem.

If you are asked the predictable question, "Why do you want this position?" you may mention that you enjoy coding, but also mention things more specific to the position.

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    Weirdly enough, I've had the opposite experience; all the interviews I've passed were focused on convincing the recruiters that I was enthusiastic about their domain, much more than on convincing them that I was qualified. I assumed it was because my previous achievements, plus letters of recommendation, were somewhat an objective measure of qualification, and it was up to the recruiter, not to me, to judge whether that qualification was sufficient.
    – Stef
    Dec 1 '21 at 10:43
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    Yeah, I'm a hiring manager where I work and 90% of the battle is someone proving that what they want aligns with what we need. Whether that comes from them persuading us that what they want is what we want or what we actually want is what they can provide is irrelevant. Skills come second, they can always be taught as long as the motivations are there. Dec 1 '21 at 10:50
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    “ Your job application is about how you will provide what your employer wants. It is not about what you want.” If only all candidates understood this… Dec 1 '21 at 13:36
  • How many jobs (outside academia) did you apply for?
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 1 '21 at 14:56
  • @Persistence Do you work in academia? In my experience academia does not involve hiring managers. Academics tend to believe everyone wants their job. Dec 1 '21 at 15:12
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I'm am interested in physics. I find myself often going down the rabbit hole to truly understand how and why certain things work and how I could improve/develop it further. But again, this is universal and I don't fancy a particular area. I like field X in physics, but in the end, I'll probably be fine with any subfield.

I think finding physics itself interesting and not being partial to or feel the need to specialize in any one particular field at this point in life is perfectly laudable and is often correlated with insight and productivity. Lots of notable contributors to physics and science in general have had a propensity to wander around between subfields or even entirely different fields of science.

Mathematics is universal and so extremely portable, and my guess is that your enthusiasm for coding is related to implementation of mathematics and algorithms (rather than say website or game design), which many, many research groups really need!

I think you should see yourself as a "great catch" for any research group and should approach this with a great deal of confidence and enthusiasm. Don't spend one nanosecond thinking about how to market yourself or craft answers that you think might make you appear more appealing.

Instead, be exactly yourself and explain yourself honestly, just as you have done in your question post. There will be plenty of groups out there who may be held back by some inability to invoke a particularly complicated model or perform a specific kind of data analysis beyond the skill or interest of anybody currently in the group.

Instead, focus your energy on reaching out and finding those groups by making your value clear, then decide which group you feel will be most nurturing, have the most interesting challenges to solve and provide the best opportunities for your future, and then let them "catch" you!

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There are some research groups which focus on scientific computing and developing or implementing tools for researchers in particular fields. If you want to stay in academia, these groups might be a better fit.

Here are a few places I've heard of from my very limited knowledge, I'm sure you could find many more:

https://www.pnnl.gov/computing-and-analytics-division https://www.mpi-cbg.de/research-groups/current-groups/ivo-sbalzarini/research-focus/

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As others have mentioned, physics PIs reading postdoc applications are unlikely to value coding more than physics.

If coding is your primary motivator, and you don't think you can sell your interest in the physics sufficiently, but you don't want to leave the research track, you might want to consider research fields outside of physics that will value both your physics and coding experience equally. An example of this is computational neuroscience (I'm sure there are others). Here is an excerpt from a recent computational neuroscience job ad (emphasis mine):

Successful candidates will have a PhD in Physics, Neuroscience, Mathematics, Computer Science, Engineering, Statistics or a related discipline and, preferably, working experience in theoretical neuroscience and deep learning.

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