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As a grad student, I have a single publication, a conference proceeding, to my name. So, my question is what do I need to do to obtain a post-doc position? Obviously, my references are going to be important. But, what other methods are available to me to demonstrate my competence? As I am US based, is it worth my time to apply for an NRC fellowship?

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Personally I think this is a great example of the type of soft question which should be on topic here. –  Joe Fitzsimons Sep 20 '11 at 13:08
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A really useful little book of advice that I give to students even before they enter graduate school. I think it's helpful to read at any stage (well, before professor emeritus) of academic career. –  Slaviks Sep 20 '11 at 13:10
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@Joe: there is a side effect to it because voting on a CW does not affect reputation. Soft non-CW questions are a way to gain reputation without hard expertise. Not that this is necessarily wrong but I believe the issue is worth a dedicated meta discussion. –  Slaviks Sep 20 '11 at 14:09
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@Slaviks: In this case, I would think that experience is necessary to give a good answer to the question. –  Joe Fitzsimons Sep 20 '11 at 14:47
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@rcollyer: We will need to discuss it on meta. However, my point of view is to tag all soft questions with a [soft-question] tag (regardless if they have additional one, e.g. [career-advice], [publishing], etc.) –  Piotr Migdal Sep 20 '11 at 15:16
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2 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Obviously things vary from subfield to subfield, so canonical advice is probably to much to hope for. With that in mind, let me try to give you something of an answer.

In principle when a person finishes a PhD, if they remain in academia, there are a number of ways this might happen. They might end up with:

  1. a teaching job with little or no research emphasis,
  2. a postdoc supported from a faculty members grant,
  3. a personal fellowship, or
  4. a junior faculty position.

Now, (4) is essentially unheard of these days, so you can more or less forget that. Of the rest, what is feasible will depend on a number of factors, but the impact of your research is going to play a big role in your success in applying for either (2) or (3).

I presume, since you are only looking at what to apply for now, that you haven't finished the PhD yet, and have something on the order of six months to a year left (do correct me if I'm wrong). With this in mind, it seems quite possible that you'll have more than one publication by the end of the PhD. If this is possible, you should put in the effort to write up results. If you get 3 or 4 papers (preprints definitely count, so make sure you are using the arxiv and including them on your CV), this will substantially alter your odds of getting a postdoc from someone you haven't previously worked with.

Personal fellowships are the most sought after form of postdoc, as they usually allow substantial autonomy, and so provide something of a springboard for a research career. This means that they are competitive and realistically, I can't see someone getting one on a single publication. I was rejected from some of the ones I applied for with 8 publications including a number of PRLs.

Postdocs supported from someones grant are easier to get, but still competitive. If you have only one publication, it might prove hard to convince someone you don't already know of your potential, though it is perhaps still worth trying, especially if your paper is particularly interesting.

The best way to get a position if you are really limited on publications is as a postdoc on a grant supported by someone you have worked with before, or who knows your work well. These people are more likely to hire you on potential or other factors, rather than on your publication record. The scope for this is of course limited, so as Pieter points out the more people who know you and your work, the better.

That said, my advice would definitely be to start applying and get your results written up as soon as possible.

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Very useful advices! –  Robert Filter Sep 24 '11 at 7:56
    
@Robert: There are people on here with more experience than me, so there are probably more authoritative answers out there. –  Joe Fitzsimons Sep 24 '11 at 13:55
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This might be true but I think its best to hear opinions of people wo actually are or just were in the situation. Greets –  Robert Filter Sep 24 '11 at 15:49
    
@RobertFilter: It was 5 years ago for me, so not that recent, but the memories are still fresh. –  Joe Fitzsimons Sep 24 '11 at 17:34
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Probably it would be good to try to get people at other universities to know you. One way is by trying to give as many talks as possible, not only at big conferences but also at smaller colloquia. Many departments run a staff colloquium, you could try if you can give a talk there. If they don't know you yet, perhaps your advisor can suggest this to people (s)he knows.

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I would add to this useful advice that one should attend as many relevant lectures and colloquia one can in one's field and listen a lot and ask pertinent questions. Not many, but to the point. Not only the ones given in his own institution but any withn an hour's drive in the area. This way more people will get to know him first hand. –  anna v Jan 4 '13 at 17:04
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