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Need to find first postdoc position but lack well-defined 'research interests'?

  1. Oct 25, 2014 #1
    I am weeks away from submitting my PhD thesis (hep physics) and would like to carry on as a postdoc. However, I have made no applications so far because the job advertisements stipulate a 'statement of research interests'. This is a problem because I don't really have them. I don't mean that I am bored with physics, I mean that I am pretty easy going about it, I'll do whatever. I could be happy working on just about anything and I'll surely take the first job I'm lucky enough to be offered.

    The situation is that I didn't have any particular research interests when I applied for my PhD either. I was just offered the opportunity at the same place I was an undergraduate, after an email and a half-hour informal chat with my supervisor. I've been working as part of a small group involving people from a few other institutions to help design/optimise certain aspects of a proposed experiment. There were things that needed doing and I just got my head down and did it. I was just delegated some tasks, I haven't really directed my own research. I've done what was necessary and by all accounts produced some useful results but I don't feel like I've been an 'independent researcher' at all. The other thing is that I don't really know much about any other experiments apart from the one I've worked on. Is this an unusual situation for someone coming to the end of their PhD to find themselves in? I'm feeling quite hopeless and incompetent at this moment and appreciate any advice you have to offer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2014 #2


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    I don't know whether this is usual or not. But the best advice that comes to my mind, is that you consider your research interests, to be the things you were doing during your PhD, because you know it better than other parts of physics. So you will work on the things you know well in your postdoc. But at the same time you can spend some hours of your day studying in library. Read books about different parts of physics: Condensed matter physics, Astrophysics, High energy and Particle physics, Biophysics, AMO physics etc. Also try to read about experimental methods in each field too. Then, be sure that there comes a moment that you tell to yourself: "This is what I want to do!" and that's your research interest.

    I should add that different parts of physics are themselves divided into smaller parts and sometimes even this smaller parts are quite different. So you should try to know these smaller parts too. Also keep up with physics news so you may hear something that attracts your attention.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  4. Oct 26, 2014 #3


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    It would probably help to start "networking" - talking to the contacts that you have or that you can make about potential post-doc projects. When applying for a position, usually the PI already has a specific project in mind. What they're looking for is someone who has the skills to move that project forward. So when they assess applicants, they're looking for someone who's interests align with the current project. So if your interests are relatively flexible, you're in a good position, because you can tailor your interests to the project. And that's why it pays to speak to someone BEFORE you apply.
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