Imagine you're a PhD student, and you found a research group, in another university, that you'd like to join for a PostDoc period.

You want to join that group because you really like their subjects, and their projects, and/or for other reasons. You just dediced you would like to join them.

Now, what could you do during your PhD to augment the probabilities to reach this objective?

You might say: just relax, make an awesome work, and then, when you're ending your doctoral period, contact that group PI and ask to be hired (we already discussed how to cope with this phase).

Okay, but, is there something you could do during your PhD before that moment?

What could you do?

Keep up-to-date on their scientific papers?

Email them? About what? Visit their lab?

Thanks a lot

  • 6
    Take some work they have done and build on it in an interesting and useful way. Jul 11, 2012 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


You want to establish substantial professional contact with the head of your target group long before your doctoral period is about to end. They need to know who you are already when your postdoc application crosses their desk. It is never too early to start. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Ask your advisor to invite the head of the group to give a talk in your department. Meet with them one-on-one. Ask about the possibility of a short visit to their lab to give a reciprocal talk. (Prerequisite: Have something compelling to talk about; be a good speaker.)

  • Ask about the possibility of summer internships. (Prerequisite: Be a good candidate for a summer internship.)

  • Ask your advisor to suggest a one-semester student swap. (Prerequisite: Be someone that the other person would want to hire as an RA.) More generally: Convince your advisor to collaborate with the other group.

  • Ask the head of the group to be an external member of your dissertation committee. Ask at least two years before your defense. (Prerequisite: Have a thesis topic that they will care about.)

  • Talk to the head of the group and/or his students at conferences. Join them for lunch, or dinner, or coffee, or beer, or whatever. (Prerequisite: Be an interesting human being. Know a few good places to get lunch/dinner/coffee/beer/whatever.)

  • Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Cultivate multiple colleagues. Some may develop into future employers, others into future research collaborators, still others into letter-writers, still others into mentors, perhaps a few into friends, and most into nothing. (Prerequisite: Know more than one person.)

  • Most importantly, don't think of this process primarily as "cultivating a postdoc position". Think of it as cultivating a research community. People will notice if your motivations are mercenary, if only subconsciously.

  • @JeffE Thanx for your answer, very interestin' (as usual!). For what concerns summer internships, in the continental Europe we don't have standards procedures for them, like maybe you have in the Usa. Anyway, this might be a good way to approach another research group. Maybe this is a query for another Academia question, but what d'you precisely intend for "summer internship" in the Northern American university context? Jul 12, 2012 at 14:13
  • @DavideChicco.it: I don't think there is a standard here in the US either. Students in my group have had both formal internships at companies (Google, Yahoo, Disney) and national labs (Argonne, Sandia, Los Alamos) and informal "internships" in other CS departments, which were really more like visitng RAships. Some of these were through formal internship programs; others were completely ad hoc.
    – JeffE
    Jul 12, 2012 at 21:45
  • Is this really true? Do they only hire people they already know?
    – cgb5436
    Jan 14, 2023 at 12:23

I would strongly recommend speaking with your advisor as a first step. He may be able to initiate collaboration between you and the researcher running the other lab while you're still performing your PhD work, allowing you to kill two birds with one stone.

If this is impractical for any reason, I would recommend reaching that, as soon as you think you have a strong enough knowledge base to be able to demonstrate expertise in your field, you should reach out to the professor at the second lab and express your interest. Research grants often take many months, and demonstrating your interest in his work at an early stage may give the professor more interest in writing a grant in which you could participate. Note that I would definitely recommend waiting until you can impress the professor with your knowledge. Postdocs are hired to get stuff done. While it's true you still are a PhD student, you're essentially applying for a position as a postdoc, and if you're not an expert (or close to one) in your field, he will likely be wary about bringing you in to your lab.

This last reason is why people typically wait until they're pretty far along, if not outright finished, with their graduate work before looking for postdoc positions.

  • Thanks, nice answer. Actually, one has only one first impression opportunity, so it's advisable not to waste it. (ps: in Italian, for "to kill two birds with one stone", we use the sentence "to take to pigeons with one broad bean", with the same meaning... ;-) Jul 11, 2012 at 14:23

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