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A recent job advert for a postdoc position asks for a list of publications along with a discussion of up to three selected papers. I have eight papers in total and am wondering which would be best to discuss.

From most to least recent, my eight papers are:

  1. First author, unrelated to the postdoc topic but very related to the work of others in the same lab. The job advert explicitly states that collaboration with other lab members is encouraged.
  2. Middle author, unrelated to the postdoc topic but in a hot-topic area and already well-cited.
  3. Middle author but equal contribution, related to the postdoc topic and I think a nice, neat result.
  4. First author, related to the postdoc topic but quite a niche work and not something I am very actively pursuing at the moment.
  5. Second author, mostly unrelated to the postdoc topic.
  6. First author, somewhat related to the postdoc topic but one of the works I'm proudest of (first paper without my PhD supervisor, fairly long and meaty work).
  7. First author, related to the postdoc topic but again a pretty niche and small result.
  8. Second author, my most highly cited paper by far (~4x as many as the others), related to the postdoc topic.

So far I am thinking of discussing 1, 3 and 6, but I wonder if it would be better to mention 8 instead of 6 given its much higher impact. I also wonder if mentioning 2 would be a good idea since it's a hot topic and shows I work on things outside my main area of interest. Lastly, I wonder if I should forget all this and only discuss my first author papers (probably 1, 4 and 6).

My general question therefore is: is it better to discuss niche but relevant papers for a job application, or broader but higher impact papers?

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    I think you should cut down the list into genres and add a subject tag. Otherwise this is a bit too dependent on personal factors.
    – user137975
    Dec 12, 2022 at 15:46
  • A relevant factor is: "How do you want to sell yourself"? This is an opportunity to highlight your strengths/selling points in relation to the position you're applying for. So, for example, if the position will involve lots of programming, you might choose to discuss a paper for which you wrote a substantial chunk of code. If you think they want someone who can help supervise students, you could highlight a paper where you developed the ideas and someone else did the experiments. Etc.
    – avid
    Dec 13, 2022 at 19:36

1 Answer 1

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I think the following two criteria are most salient:

  1. Which papers are you most proud of?
  2. Which papers are most relevant to the postdoc position you're applying for?

For this type of context, "relevant" is in the broadest sense of whether the person reading your application -- presumably the potential postdoc advisor -- would be impressed.

In terms of your specific list, based on these criteria -- and based solely on what you wrote -- the publications that stand out to me are #1, #3, #6, and #8. I see that this also matches what you have identified.

  • #4 and #7 are also candidates, but by your own admission, they are not major results. It's possible you're underselling your work, but there's also a real danger that you discuss something at length which is not really showcasing your strength as a candidate, nor is it something you want to work on in the future. This is why I view criteria (1) above (what you're proud of) as the most salient thing to consider.

  • I don't see a good reason to mention #2. It presumes the faculty member would be interested in that just because it's a hot topic, but that's somewhat of a coin flip whether or not they actually are.

Lastly, I wonder if I should forget all this and only discuss my first author papers

Views towards first-authorship vary by field, so I can't comment too specifically, but I think that (1) subsumes this: it's more important that you're proud of your own contribution and can explain it clearly. For example, you could have acted in more of a mentoring role, and then would not be first author, but still contributed major ideas.

is it better to discuss niche but relevant papers for a job application, or broader but higher impact papers?

I think there's not enough information to answer. Which are you more proud of? Which would be more impressive to the postdoc advisor?

It it's too niche and you yourself view it as incremental or irrelevant, then it's probably not as good as something which you view as more impactful. On the other hand, if it's impactful but not in any sense that the postdoc advisor is likely to be interested in, then that's not good either.

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