Finding an Academic Job

by James Lambers
Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering
Stanford University

The end of your graduate career can be a very stressful period, given the inherent difficulty of completing and defending a dissertation. The added burden of securing employment after you graduate can easily be the straw that breaks the camel's back. This guide is intended to help prepare you for the latter ordeal and, hopefully, help ensure a positive outcome.

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Where to Apply?

Just as hiring decisions are rarely easy, it is not a trivial task to identify the universities to which you should apply. Hiring committees will try to determine, based on your application, if you are suitable for their faculty, but which institutions are suitable for you? Some factors you should consider are:

Once you have an idea of the type of institution to which you want to apply, you need to find out which institutions meet your criteria. For this purpose, you may already have an excellent resource close at hand. Your advisor can likely recommend destinations that would suit you, since he or she is already aware of your abilities and goals. Also, it's wise to keep in touch with your fellow students who graduate ahead of you, so that you can benefit from their new postdoctoral experiences. As a student, it's easy to build preconceived notions about postdoctoral life, so your recently graduated friends can provide a useful reality check.

If, in addition to your other criteria, you wish to apply to universities that are considered to be among the best in broad categories such as applied mathematics or computer science, a useful resource is the US News & World Report rankings, which can be found at Although the rankings cannot tell you, for instance, what are the top-ranked institutions in optimization or numerical methods for PDE, these rankings can indicate which destinations are likely to provide you with a broadly-based learning experience across all disciplines within the department.

Once you know where you want to apply, it's time to find out where you can apply. The following resources can help you find vacancies:

Once you have identified departments at which you would like to apply, you can help your application before you even send it by contacting faculty

Such communications can even be useful in cases where the department in question does not have an advertised vacancy. In some cases, if a department is truly interested in working with you, they can find a way (and find funding) to make it possible for you to join their ranks.

Application Materials

While each university requires a different set of application materials, the following list represents an approximate union of these sets, so it is a good idea to have all of these items available.

Suggested Timeline

It may seem premature to devote much time and energy to job-hunting when graduation is more than a year away, but it's never too soon to start preparing yourself for the challenging task of demonstrating that you are the one who should be hired from a field of several outstanding applicants. The following timeline suggests what you can do throughout your graduate career to make yourself more employable when it is finally over.

Before your final year

During your final year

What to Expect


In addition to sites previously listed in this guide, the following sites can also be very helpful in your search:

James Lambers
Department of Mathematics
University of California, Irvine
[email protected]

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