Explore Career Options

Talk to professionals in your desired field to see if a postdoc is a necessary step or more of a side-step. Ask them if they recommend having postdoc experience, or ask what skills and experience should you build during a postdoc.

Here are some ways for you to start exploring potential career options while at Duke:

  • Duke in the Academic Job Search Series,
    • is a series focused on topics that relate to an academic career such as research, teaching materials, mentorship, and negotiation
  • Careers Beyond Academia Series
    • is a series centered on topics that concern nonacademic careers including transferrable skills, strengths, and industry options
  • Personalize your CareerHub
    • is a website where you can get industry insights and career development resources on specific career communities  
  • Beyond the Professoriate 
    • is a platform that helps graduate students make the most out of their job search and build meaningful careers

A postdoc can be a transitional position in many ways, and there are other, more direct ways to transition into different career paths.  

For instance, if you are interested in jobs in industry, not just R&D but also from the business and leadership sides, many companies have rotational and leadership development programs targeted toward graduating PhD students. Industries such as policy, non-profits, and clinical research also have various routes for entry for PhDs that do not involve a postdoc.  

Talk with current professionals in these areas or make an appointment with a career adviser via make an appointment with a career adviser via Handshake to learn more. 

Postdoc Timeline

The postdoc search timeline calls for networking beginning 24 months prior to graduation, joining professional societies during the year before and applying for postdocs and collaborating during the six months prior.

Networking method

In the American working culture, networking is the strongest way to search for any position, including postdocs. Meeting and conversing with a potential employer or postdoc mentor can benefit you greatly when you apply for the position. Your application will often receive extra attention since these researchers and employers already know you.  

Your existing academic network can be a powerful tool in your postdoc search. Once you have defined the goals for your postdoc, talk with your current research mentor about what you are looking for. Ask them about colleagues they know working on particular topics, using certain methods, or who have a good track record of preparing postdocs for your career path(s) of interest. Also talk with members of your dissertation committee or other faculty at Duke to see whom they can connect you to.

Not sure how to network, view the Career Center Networking Guide.  

Network at conferences

  • Look at the list of conference attendees ahead of time to see who works at institutions where you’d like to do a postdoc 
  • Contact researchers ahead of the conference and schedule a time to meet with them (consider this an informal interview
  • Talk to the graduate students and postdocs working at institutions of interest or for potential postdoc mentors to learn more about their experiences 
  • Strike up a conversation with other students and postdocs in your field 
  • Seek out a researcher whose work interests you at a presentation, poster session, or networking event 

Network beyond conferences

  • Email potential postdoc mentors or colleagues to set up a meeting or phone call to talk about their work and experiences 
  • Ask current and former postdocs about their positions, how they found them, and advice they have for you 
  • Career fairs and networking events at Duke (schedule listed on Handshake
  • Duke Alumni Association 
  • LinkedIn
  • Interstride

Apply directly to faculty or programs

Another option is to apply to postdoc programs or directly to faculty mentors. If you are searching for faculty to contact, try some of these methods: 

  • Consider the geographical locations you’re most interested in and then browse department listings and faculty research directories for institutions in those areas; you can also search for mentorship awards given by that institution 
  • Find job listings on university job sites and contact the PI directly
  • Search the literature for who is doing research in areas you find interesting 
  • Browse members of your professional societies
  • Use online tools like NIH Reporter and NSF FastLane Award to find faculty advisors who have funding and who are more likely to to be hiring postdocs

Once you have identified faculty you’d potentially interested in working with, read through their website and most recent publications. Look at their previous co-authors as some may be current faculty at Duke who can facilitate an introduction.  

Information you gain in these ways will be useful as you prepare your application materials and send them via email. Your cover letter will be the body of the email, and you can attach a CV or other documents to the message.  

Even if you apply through an official postdoc program, researching the institutions and faculty will help you craft your application documents. 

International Students/Scholars

Early in the conversation, be sure to ask potential mentors if they have funding to support international scholars. 

Further resources for international students looking for postdoc positions in the U.S.:

  • Interstride
    • is designed specifically for international students by international students to help them learn about international career opportunities, visa and immigration services, networking, and more 
  • National Postdoc Association
    • is an association that contains helpful guides and resources  
  • Fogarty International Center of the NIH
    • is a database of non-NIH funding opportunities in the U.S. and abroad