Matthew Olckers


Tips on applying for a postdoc in economics

  • tips

Apply for 2+ year postdocs

One year postdocs are not going to benefit you or the people that hired you, unless you already have an assistant professorship position to go to after the postdoc. Make sure the postdoc is at least two years long. Otherwise, as soon as you arrive, you will need to start looking for a new job.

So you know what’s out there, there are three kinds of postdocs:

  • Prestigious postdocs that recruit every year (Nuffield College at Oxford, Cowles Foundation at Yale, Caltech Linde Institute, Stanford, Microsoft Research, Cambridge, EUI Florence, etc.). Most of these are very competitive.
  • Joining a research team for a specific project. You are paid from a research grant to co-author papers on a specific topic.
  • One year postdocs given to job market stars before their assistant professorship position.

Search for postdocs using the AEA website and Although these websites have been designed for candidates publically “on the market”, you can still create a profile and apply for a postdocs without making your profile public.

Your “job market paper” can be co-authored with your supervisor

The recruiters understand that you may be applying to their postdoc because you want more time to work on a job market paper. Even though using a paper co-authored with your supervisor is frowned upon in the assistant professor market, it’s fine to use such a paper for your postdoc applications. Rather send a polished co-authored paper than a rough draft of a single authored paper.

Networks matter a lot

The recruiting professors are far more likely to take a second look at your application if they know your supervisor or if someone they respect referred you.

Your network might also know of postdocs which have not been advertised widely.

Reference letters seal the deal

You need your supervisors to write you strong reference letters.

Give your supervisors enough time to write the reference letter and make sure they think a postdoc is a good idea for you.

You should however give anyone you are asking to write you a reference letter the opportunity to say no because a weak reference letter can strongly diminish your chances of getting a good position.

Preparation is a source of competitive advantage

Start thinking about postdocs in March if you plan to start a postdoc in September the following year.

PhD students often procrastinate. If you find the willpower to start early on an application, your chances will be much better than those who submit at the last minute.

Clean up your online presence

The recruiters might google you. Make sure your research website is one of the first results.

When I applied for postdocs, I benefitted from advice that Julien Combe sent to all PSE students. These tips just repeat some of his main points.

Thank you to Olamide Ayoade-Alabi for taking notes during our chat about postdocs. This blog post is an edit of her notes.