I'm a fourth year mathematics postdoc and I am looking at tenure-track jobs this year. I see some jobs that have a targeted research area but often have a caveat sentence along the lines of "Exceptional candidates from other areas may also be considered."

I am trying to decide if putting my file in there will cloud their applicant pool (since I am in a related field but not in the advertised discipline). What do caveat sentences like this mean? What does "exceptional candidate" mean? Should I apply?

  • I'm not familiar with postdoc jobs. Do you have to have a solid research plan to be hired, or will you be assigned for a problem to get it done, like how industry works?
    – Ooker
    Oct 7, 2017 at 17:47
  • @Ooker In my experience it varies from job to job, but it's typically a bit of both. You have to develop your own topics of research as well as working on problems designated by your supervisor.
    – David Z
    Oct 8, 2017 at 7:49
  • but if you are postdoc already, then you don't need anyone to supervise you, is that correct? Are professors (or tenure) the only ones who have their own independence?
    – Ooker
    Oct 8, 2017 at 10:09
  • 1
    @ooker In math it is common for postdocs to set their own research plans.
    – Zach H
    Oct 27, 2017 at 5:09

2 Answers 2


Do not filter yourself out. You do not know what the hiring department wants (and they might not know/agree themselves). Just send your application in.

Do not worry about clouding application pool. The application pools are huge, but most applications are dismissed within a minute. As a member of a hiring committee, I prefer to spend an extra minute on one more non-competitive application than miss a chance to hire an excellent colleague who will work side-by-side with me for years.

  • In particular, their definition of the targeted research area might not agree with yours. If your work is interesting to the people working in that area in the department, then they may be interested in hiring you. Someone could be interested in your work for reasons unknown to you, for example if your area has an unexpected application to their area that you don't know about. Oct 7, 2017 at 21:48
  • 1
    It could even be that the official wording was crafted for reasons other than being most descriptive. Do not guess, just apply to wherever you might remotely be interested. If you get an offer, decide if you are interested.
    – Boris Bukh
    Oct 7, 2017 at 21:55
  • 3
    It has happened that the higher administration encourages a department to search broadly, not focusing exclusively on one or two specific areas, and that the same higher administration authorizes the department to hire people in just one or two specific areas. The resulting job ad can look like what you describe. The "meaning" is that the department can consider all sorts of candidates, but, if it wants to hire someone outside the one or two specified areas, it has to persuade the higher administration that this person is really wonderful. Oct 7, 2017 at 22:41
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    Most applications require non trivial work. If we believe a priori that our application will be dismissed in under one minute then we are not highly motivated to put in the work.
    – emory
    Oct 8, 2017 at 2:08
  • 3
    In math, because of mathjobs, the marginal effort of one more application is quite low. This has obvious upsides and downsides. Oct 8, 2017 at 2:17

A lot of schools may not be able to hire someone in the desired area. If they can get a qualified person who will take the money that they are willing to pay, then they count themselves lucky.

I agree with the previous poster. Don't sell yourself short. Give the search committee reasons as to why you would take THAT job. Rise to the challenges of the job you take.

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