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I am a finishing doctoral student (graduation in ~7-9 months) and I would love to get an year or so of postdoctoral experience. I've come to understand that a postdoc is generally paid by funds created for the project (s)he is a postdoc for.

How should I go about "growing my own" postdoc opportunity? In other words, how should I go about soliciting for funds for research ideas? I know it is a rather daunting task. Although I have participated in writing several proposals (some of which were accepted), I have never been the PI or co-PI for any of those projects -- generally just one of the grad students working on it.

I am at a US university and have already taken at look at NSF's website.. Being an international student, I don't have all the options available to domestic candidates.

This is what I've thought of so far:

  1. Come up with feasible research idea and approach advisor.
  2. Discuss idea and possible collaborations.
  3. Try to categorize it into NSF's or any other funding agencies categories.
  4. Write a proposal in the summer and submit it during the next window of opportunity.

Any pointers, tips or funding agencies I might also look at?

Some background: I am a PhD candidate in Mechanical engineering with emphasis on fluid dynamics, applied mathematics, energy systems and space systems.

  • @DNA A question: how does NFS research funding system work? – DavideChicco.it May 6 '12 at 22:16
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    @DavideChicco.it I am probably not the best person to answer that! Perhaps you should consider starting a question? – dearN May 7 '12 at 23:29
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From what I've seen, you've just described perfectly what many professors would view as the "ideal postdoc". As one of the main goals of your postdoctoral training is to gain experience writing your own grant proposals, your four steps are very close to what you should be doing.

The most crucial part for you will be finding a postdoctoral advisor with whom you get along. As is typical in research settings, look for someone with significant research experience who has a successful record of getting proposals funded. Given that this is your goal, this is possibly more important now than their publication record. You should be able to find this out by asking around the department and speaking to graduate students, and even just asking the advisor directly about their recently funded grant applications. Once you find someone, everything else should go fairly smoothly.

1) Come up with feasible research idea and approach advisor.

2) Discuss idea and possible collaborations.

You should do this both on your own and through talking to your advisor. Remember that one of the main factors driving whether a postdoctoral grant is accepted is previous experience of both the postdoctoral fellow himself and the advisor; consider ideas in areas where you have experience doing research and your advisor has experience mentoring.

While you can consider collaborations, my postdoc advisor told me that at most I should consider one other collaborator, other my advisor himself, as collaborative proposals are more complicated, both from a submission and administrative standpoint.

3) Try to categorize it into NSF's or any other funding agencies categories.

Your advisor should already be aware of relevant funding opportunities.

4) Write a proposal in the summer and submit it during the next window of opportunity.

I assume you wrote "summer" because you were thinking of a particular grant, but different opportunities have different grant submission deadlines. Again, talk to your advisor to see which grants the thinks would be a good fit for you, and check out their respective deadlines.

  • I am thinking I should come up with MORE THAN ONE research idea as at least some of them would be shot down for lack of interest on my advisors part. I think collaborative research could be quite useful but also, as you put it, an administrative nightmare. I collaborate with the math department right now as it seems pertinent given the nature of my research (applied partial differential equations) but they aren't on the grant as co-PIs etc; they are co-authors on my papers. I guess it would be very different were they on my research grant! – dearN Apr 3 '12 at 15:55
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    @DNA - Definitely... there are many reasons ideas aren't good. Some of my best ideas were completely infeasible. Think of as many as you can. I kept a set of digital notecards, all broadly titled "ideas", of potential research ideas. I tried to have at least five cards in there at all times, and whenever one was discarded I would try to add another. – eykanal Apr 3 '12 at 16:46
  • Yes, thats a good idea. – dearN Apr 3 '12 at 17:07
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There are a few programs, such as the Newton Fellowships and the Humboldt Fellowship which are designed expressly for international researchers; however, those programs are based out of the UK and Germany, respectively. There is also the Fulbright Program which offers opportunities for students and scholars to come to the US. These may or may not be applicable.

However, this is largely a "chicken-and-egg" problem; coming from abroad, you won't be able to apply for your own money at US agencies (except ones sponsoring programs like the Fulbright). So the logistics of this might be very challenging to coordinate.

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