I am a theoretical physics PhD student from France. I have no papers after 5 years of my PhD. The problem I am working on has hit many road blocks and even my supervisor has no clue how to proceed. The results I have obtained are valid only for some aspects of my problem. So I could probably publish a paper, but if I do, it will not be a high impact factor journal.

My question is: can I apply for a post-doc without publishing any paper from my PhD?

I would like to apply in North America/Europe etc.

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    Of course you can apply. I suppose you are really asking what your chances are. It would be better to hear from a theoretical physicist, so I'll just make comments: in mathematics, it used to be extremely common for the PhD to get awarded prior to the first publication, and postdocs were awarded almost entirely on the strength of the recommendation letters (in confluence with an least reasonable research statement). For instance I got my PhD in 2003, got a postdoc in 2003, got my first publication in 2005, and got tenure at a top 50 US research university in 2011.... Aug 16, 2014 at 20:26
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    ....But I think times are changing. In my experience, the distribution of graduating PhDs w/o publications is increasingly bimodal: either they have no interest in a research career (so are not applying for postdocs) or their program, their advisor and their thesis work is superior, and they are not going to divulge their superior works until they are suitably mature. My guess is that physics, however theoretical, is at least a bit more publication-centric than math. Anyway, if you truly are not satisfied with your results, maybe see if you can stay longer in your program. Aug 16, 2014 at 20:30
  • Do you have preprints (for example, on the arXiv)? Like Pete L. Clark, I am also not a theoretical physicist, but I imagine your chances would be different between (1) having preprints but no formal publications, and (2) not having anything for people to read. I assume you have not written a thesis yet.
    – James T
    Aug 16, 2014 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


You could apply to a post-doc without a high-school degree -- an application only involves sending in the application package. No one is going to stop you from mailing it in.

That says nothing about whether or not you will get the post-doc, let alone if the secretary will just toss it in the recycling bin before it even gets seen by the faculty.

The real questions are:

  1. What are the eligibility requirements of a post-doc?
  2. How competitive is the post-doc?

For the first question, most post-docs require a PhD in hand or late-ABD status. Most do not require publications and if they do, they will state that clearly on the application page.

The second question is the real question. Post-docs are usually extremely competitive. In order to be a finalist, you have to be n+1 of whatever quality and quantity the faculty is looking for.

If your peer group has no publications (0) and you have 1 publication, you will stand out as the +1. Since it's not possible to have -1 publications, it's hard to stand out from a group with 0 publications to your name. If your peers have 10 publications, you need to have either more in number or more in quality, or something else that your competitors don't have.

For example, some post-docs in some fields value other things than research publications. I occasionally read for post-docs in the humanities and there the quality of your dissertation and proposal is more important as most post-docs in those fields apparently have zero or near zero publications at the ABD stage.

And finally, there are some post-docs that just aren't very competitive -- either because of geography or topic or paucity of funding or other reasons.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the social/human factor. Many people get post-docs on the strength of their recommendation letters, as Pete Clark mentions. Strong recommendations attesting to your brilliance and to the problems you faced with your current project would go far in convincing a postdoc committee to take a chance with you. You could also try to ask your supervisor to use some of her/his social capital to try to persuade a colleague at another university to take you on.

Your mileage may vary.

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