PART 4: Making the Approach

If you have yet to read the previous posts in this series, we encourage you to start at the beginning!

How to make the approach

Once you have identified faculty who align with your research interests, you’ll want to approach them to create a connection and share your interest in working with them. If you have a professional acquaintance or colleague in common, you can ask for an email introduction, which can help get you on their radar. If you have the chance to attend a talk the faculty member is giving or see them at a conference, take the opportunity to introduce yourself and bring up your interest in their work. In your conversation, talk a bit about your research and include a conversation about the possibility of working with them as a postdoc. Even a cold email can work, though it can take more patience and persistence. A tactful way to do this might include:

  • Make a personal connection – if you have a mutual connection, saw this particular faculty member speak at a conference, or if you simply want to share about a paper of theirs that piqued your curiosity, discuss this in the opening of your communication with the person
  • Share your interest in their research – build upon your personal connection to discuss how their research interests you and be specific about a paper or project they are working on
  • Communicate your interest in becoming a postdoc in their lab – be clear that you are looking for a postdoctoral position, and share how your work work aligns with and complements theirs

There are additional resources on how to approach a faculty member which go into more detail, including, “Landing Your First Postdoc Position” and “The Right (And Wrong) Ways to Contact Potential Postdoc Advisors.” It’s important to note that if you have never had contact with the faculty member before, they may not respond right away. After a reasonable amount of time (e.g., two weeks) email them again (and again) to follow up on your initial email – persistence pays off!

Next Steps: Preparing for an Initial Screening Conversation

Once you have made a connection with a potential mentor, make sure you are prepared for your initial conversation with them. This is an opportunity for the faculty member to understand your research interests and for you to understand the mentor’s. Come to these meetings prepared, having read through a few of the mentor’s papers, ready to answer questions about your research and skills, and with some questions that will help you to understand their current and near-term research directions and their approach to mentoring (these questions should also demonstrate that you have “done your homework” and are serious in your interest in working with them). The goals of this conversation are to capture their interest in you as a potential postdoc in their group and to feel them out to see if you feel like this might be a good mentoring fit for you. Good possible outcomes from this conversation include an invitation to come formally interview, an introduction to other faculty who might be a better research fit, or clarity that this is not the right match for your postdoc and career ambitions – all of these should be considered successes, because they get you closer to finding the right mentor and training environment to support your goals. 

In our next (and final) post in this series, we will include nuanced considerations for choosing a postdoc opportunity (that’s right, you have a say in this). We encourage you to read the final post to help you decide on the best fit for your postdoc experience!