As April begins, graduate students (even those of us who have been doing this for what seems like forever!) begin to shift into end-of-semester mode: Grading exams and term papers begins to take precedence over just about everything else. However, if you will be entering your final year of dissertation writing in the fall, now is also the moment to consider applying for postdocs to support the next stage of your career.
I know what you’re thinking- I’ll worry about that after the semester ends (or after my last trip to the archive, or after my last experiment is done, or after I finish chapter 1/2/3…). As a fellow graduate student who has worked with many people developing postdoctoral applications, allow me to humbly suggest you set aside *one hour* this weekend to check into postdoctoral fellowship options for your field of study and set up a consultation meeting for the GradFund Summer Mentoring Program.
Why now, you ask? First of all, nationally-competitive postdoctoral fellowships often run on an accelerated timeline relative to graduate student awards, with application deadlines as early as July. Some postdoc applications will ask for nominations from faculty as a first step early in the application process. This means that you will need talk to your faculty and and express your interest in the program early and often to make sure your nomination doesn’t get lost in the thousand other things your advisor might be doing this summer.
Even if your award doesn’t have an early deadline or require a nomination, you will still want to begin to lay the groundwork for your postdoctoral application as early as possible. While you might be planning to use your tenure to begin the massive undertaking of turning the dissertation into a book, competitive postdoctoral applications often need to go one step further: Reviewers (particularly in the sciences and social sciences) expect you to propose to begin a second research project that will expand your area of expertise beyond the scope of the dissertation. This will mean a new topic, new research questions, new supporting literature, new methods or approach, and a new intended contribution to your field.
As if that weren’t enough to consider, funders for these types of awards hold professional networking and mentoring support as critical priorities. Therefore, even before you begin writing a proposal, you will need to contact prospective postdoctoral mentors regarding your research ideas, either through previously-established connections or by “cold-emailing” scholars whose work coincides with your interests. Once you have a mentor who is interested in working with you, you will then need to develop your research ideas and plans in conjunction with the mentor to highlight the ways that you will benefit mentor’s expertise. This is, of course, in addition to consulting your current advisor and committee at every step of the process, from crafting new questions to writing application drafts.
The good news in all of this is that we can help! GradFund assists Rutgers graduate students and current Rutgers postdocs in applying for nationally-competitive annual postdoctoral fellowship competitions. Examples include Mellon postdoctoral fellowships (various universities), government funded postdoctoral fellowships (NIH, NSF, NRC, etc.), and Society of Fellows postdoctoral fellowships (Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc.). We strongly encourage these students to apply to participate in the GradFund Summer Mentoring Program, which provides a supportive environment that walks you through the process of applying for postdocs step-by-step. Visit GradFund Central for more information, but most importantly, if you think you might be interested you will need to email us to schedule your mentoring program consultation by April 2 (i.e., this Monday!).
If you read through the information on our website and decide the mentoring program is not for you, we can still help over the course of the summer with our individual meetings. Need help wading through the sea of postdoctoral options you find in the Pivot Database or understanding a complicated funding program? Schedule a Planning Meeting. Once you start writing your applications, schedule Application Review Meetings with us as often as possible.
Postdoctoral fellowships are prestigious, competitive, and extremely valuable. So, close your office door, avoid your students’ frenetic grade protests for just an hour, and give yourself a little space to think about the next step. Then, send us an email so we can help you figure out the world of postdocs- and definitely don’t wait until you finish grading!