In cases where new professors at universities or research institutes are given laboratory space and budgets for new equipment, graduate students and postdocs, but assistance in recruiting those graduate students and postdocs is not provided, what are techniques that they use to populate their labs with students and postdocs?

I'm interested in nonstandard, novel and innovative techniques beyond advertising in applicable academic newsletters and conferences.

Experimental physical sciences would be a good context for me (note: I'm literally "asking for a friend") but answers that address this more generally might be more valuable for future readers. So for the purposes of this question I won't be getting into any specifics so as not to unnecessarily constrain answers.

3 Answers 3


I don't know if the ideas below count as innovative, but they are things that go beyond advertising in applicable academic newsletters and conferences.

  1. Social Media. If you have, or can build up, a following on social media, within the community of people interested in your subject area, this can be a good avenue for recruitment. Being active on social media can help create awareness of your lab and what you do and if you have an active, interesting and well-followed account then when you post a job ad, relevant people will see it. Building up a following takes time, of course, so if you need to attract applications right now and don't already have a social media presence it won't help much. But over the longer term it could be part of a recruitment strategy.

  2. Professional network. Anyone who has got far enough in research to be setting up their own lab will surely have a substantial network of collaborators and former colleagues/bosses. Those people have students and postdocs who want to find their next job. Ask around your network if people know of promising candidates who might be interested.

  3. Seminars and conference talks. Try to get invited to give seminars in places with big labs in your specialty. Attend relevant conferences, hopefully with the opportunity to give a talk. Mention, at the start of the talk, while you still have everyone's attention, that you are setting up a lab and hiring and that people who are interested in joining should talk to you afterwards or send you an email. Then, hopefully, give a really engaging talk about your recent work, creating the impression that you are an interesting and inspiring person with lots of good ideas.

  4. Head-hunt. Look at recent preprints and papers in your field, and find ones that you really like where the first author is someone you've never heard of. It is likely that that person is a PhD student or junior postdoc who's going to be looking for a job in the not-too-distant future. Invite them for a seminar + discussion. If they make a good impression, offer them a job. Since the question implies a situation where the lab is not at one of the top-reputed institutions (otherwise there would be no need for special effort to find applicants), it probably isn't worth trying this with people who are already at top institutions, or where the paper in question is a very splashy, high-profile one. Those people will have lots of other offers. Instead, seek people from non "top-tier" institutions who've produced high-quality work that isn't necessarily getting the attention it deserves.


I guess you are talking from one of the not famous institutions, so that you do not get flooded by applications as soon as you open an internship position of 1 month to perform a task that requires 6 months of qualified work from a professional.

Quite simple: offering funds for a 3 or 6 months stint at the top facilities, leaving to the applicant complete freedom (and burden) to get the contact/advisor at the top facility.


I think all ways already have been found. Any HR work is time-consuming. So the best for a professor is not making it all only his job. Hand out a big chunk of it away. Make a net of trusted helpers - PhD students, students who already finished their Masters and so on. Make a Net of trustees. Send trustees to missions: schools, universities, conferences. Not just to present you, but look out for people to catch. Continuous and distributed search is the only option.

Also, people who qualify, already probably doing something else. Which does not mean that they will reject your projects. People often decline money bump for additional intensity in their life, so they can go with you for the freedom science can give.

Also, people who qualify, often have less then ideal papers. It does not mean they can't grow more to overcome themselves. You should be careful about looking into papers and citation numbers. It is just a number, nothing more. Humans are not numbers. Einstein had effectively zero citations because he was not a scientist at all, he was worker at patent office and was declined a chance to work in all major universities.

Also, don't look at formal side. Ramanujan had no formal education at all. And nobody could ever vouch for him, at all. Same with hundreds of thousands of people who were declined a few times because of formal documents they were lacking, and it halted their progress.

What to look at, then?

Initiative. People who initiatively nest in specific places, who make their move first. If somebody writes to you, and you never even heard of, ask the person's name and what he is interested in. People who are interested in your works, will continiously generate ideas and constantly handle at least a few at any given moment. At the very least if person is interested in other areas, you can redirect him to other professionals.

Self-sufficient. Sufficiency is the very basic stage of scientific person.

Language-rich. People who speak at least four languages are better choices. And you cannot know how much a person can speak until somebody actually speaks with him. For physics field, it would be: 1 computer language, 1 mathematical language (ability to work with CAS), English (for writing papers, obviously), some other language (Russian, French, German etc etc).

Positive-feedback versus Negative-feedback personalities. Look for positive-feedbacked personalities for scientific works. These people are generators, able to bootstrap themselves, their ideas and their equipment from the given initial conditions. Emotionally unstable, often depressed, positive-feedback personalities require careful handling and additional work on polishing their personality. Most of them are rejects by the society, including scientific society. Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison, most likely both did NOT recieve Nobel prize, just because they did hate each other.

  • 2
    There is certainly a lot of good advice here, but I feel much of it will get read once it is added as an answer to a different question that perhaps still needs to be asked. I've asked only "...innovative techniques that new professors use to populate their new laboratories..." and new professors without anybody working for them yet may not have any way to make a "net of trustees".
    – uhoh
    Mar 18, 2022 at 21:22
  • @uhoh A lab is a just a tool for facilitating the research logistics. And creating an empty lab is, by large, pointless - unless you specifically have funding available for equipment and want to start housing it somewhere. Even then, those labs typically do not last for too long. To start a lab, one needs some initial human capital; usually it is done by reassigning people or creating a roadmap which includes new hires and/or students by the time you create it. This way, one can at least hope it does not fizzle immediately (or after completing a grant or two).
    – Lodinn
    Mar 20, 2022 at 15:23
  • 4
    The existence of Ramanujan and Einstein can be safely ignored in the academic hiring process. At least to first, second, third, and fourth order... Nov 14, 2022 at 12:49

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