7 publications, funded masters+PhD but no postdocs: 6 rejections in a row


======= Date Modified 16 Jan 2011 00:31:10 =======
Hello. Just wondered if anyone else is experiencing anything like this.

I had AHRC funding for my Master's and PhD (PhD isn't finished yet- aiming for this year)
Have 7 publications
1 Ivy-League Visiting Fellowship
11 scholarships/prizes to date
a research proposal which other contacts in my field (literature) have said is exciting and easily publishable

...and today I received my 6th rejection in a row. I'm not even making any LONG LISTS let alone a short list. I asked one Cambridge college for feedback and they told me they'd had a hard time deciding whose applications to read....which makes me think, they may not even have read my application?!

My biggest worry of all is that my health is affecting my prospects. I had time out earlier in my thesis due to ill health which I've recovered from now, but it makes my phd look like a 5 year one, even though I've only done 2.5 years on it and my referees point this out.

What am I doing wrong? Don't know what else I can do to my applications to make them stronger, and neither, it seems, do the places to which I'm applying.



Down...  not surprised your down.. good grief.

I make this suggestion with much respect ... acknowledging that you've done everything else.. and what else is there... but something struck me.

practical experience.. do you have any ?  voluntary work ?  Something you've set up yourself ? collaborative work ? Your achievements ( from the scant detail here admittedly) sound very singular, individual and i know that's just the PhD experience and i am in no way criticising but this may just add a new dimension to your application experience.  

I wish you all the best.   Chuff


======= Date Modified 16 Jan 2011 07:50:54 =======
THanks, chuff. Yes, I've got some other stuff to add to this too.

Teaching for one term
plus giving a lecture

then- extra curricular/ university community work

Voluntary work with access- encouraging non-privileged applicants to apply
working with disabled students
honorary life membership of my students union fro contribution to life of town and gown
chairing departmental staff-student committee
elected rep heading up all graduates in my subject and representing them at Faculty meetings
sitting on my college equal opportunities committee
sitting on a university wide access committee
fundraising- over £2,000 raised for a local hospital

dunno what else I can do to be honest!:-(



ok, clutching at straws now...

you made a comment about not knowing if your application got read at all.

I don't want to know what it is .. but thinking around your first sentence / paragraph on your CV is it a grabber? (so to speak) 

Say i'm Prof Plum - why do i want to read this, another application ?  

Have you chatted to your sup and asked their advice, is there approach that gets you in the club ?  There is such a clan culture in academia, collegial in more ways than one, is there a way to get in the door ?

I hope others can add to this as i'm getting down for you.. such a tough climate out there these days.

Keep positive though, Chuff


I hate to say it, but the fact that your PhD isn't finished might be the problem :-(


Did you apply to the advertised positions? If that's the case you were rejected most probably because you didn't finish your PhD. When you will finish your PhD is very uncertain and I think that's why they don't even read your application. Now it's very unlikely that you would be successful. I would wait till I submit at least.

Good luck!


I think not having the PhD in hand will be an easy reason to reject you at the moment. Given the sheer numbers of applications, if there's anything to say in the advert that they expect a completed PhD, then I think that they might just sift out those without one straightaway. I have two other thoughts, both of which are a bit difficult to phrase, so apologies if they come across as tactless. I'm assuming from what you say about college committees that you are probably at Oxford or Cambridge - if not what follows is irrelevant. If so,
1) if you are applying for Oxbridge postdocs, I wonder whether your supervisor can do some investigation on your behalf i.e. are they keener on appointing outsiders than insiders, are you not viewed as 'the most promising' in your cohort, is it because everyone hates your supervisor and any student of his/her is tainted by association. I don't know whether this is sour grapes on his part, but I know someone with an Oxbridge soc sci phD and he reckoned that there was an unofficial decision at departmental level about who they wanted to keep and if you weren't on that list, then as an insider there was no point applying.
2) If you are applying outside, could you get someone who hasn't been to Oxbridge to look through your applications to make sure it makes sense to outsiders (given the different terminology for all things Oxbridge related) - and fits the expectations of other universities e.g. your publications and future research plans are such that it's clear you understand REF expectations. That seemed to be something letting down this friend of mine - he said he'd been given very little guidance and particularly hadn't understood how different the teaching environment and expectations were elsewhere.

Avatar for sneaks

It could well be that you're applying for positions that were filled by internal or 'known to the interviewer' candidates. In which case there is little you can do.

If you're regularly getting to interview, then the problem probably isn't to do with your application cv. (if you are not then do give them an overhaul and really sell yourself)

One thing I would suggest is don't just rely on a list of qualifications to sell yourself, but (and do this on application and in interviews) have a list of SKILLS you've gained from each of your experiences - many people (even professors) need to have these chucked in their face like a wet fish to actually understand how you may be valuable. E.g. from my PhD I have on my cv....

- project management skills (e.g. working to deadlines, organsiational skills)
- communication skills (with a wide variety of techniques to different audiences, conferences etc.)
- consultancy skills (e.g. meeting with different 'stakeholder' groups)
- technical skills (e.g. specific PhD skills such as certain types of analysis)
- statistical skills
- computing skills (e.g. Word, excel, SPSS etc.)

Most of that is common sense, but they need to be told!


Thanks everyone. If it is because I've not finished, then I guess that's more bearable than if I had and wasn't getting anywhere.

For the record, yes, I'm Oxbridge and the posts are all Oxbridge Junior Research Fellowships- that's all there is going at the moment! What does annoy me is that these are advertised as being for EITHER those with a completed PhD or in the final stages of their thesis. And yet, I'm not getting a look in.

I am producing my CV in academic format, and had it approved by University career services.
My order is as follows-

1: affiliations- so my ivy league fellowship is the first thing they see as it's most recent, then my PhD, master's, and undergrad

2: prizes and awards - the 11 scholarships/ how much they were worth

3: publications- full referencing

4: conference presentations

4: teaching done

5: university service- committees etc.

What would really upset me is if I was getting knock backs purely because I hadn't finished in three years. My work is pretty decent, and I've always been successful in things I've gone for, including my Ivy league fellowship. I'm just not sure what else it could be, really.

Thanks for feedback and suggestions. I just wish my supervisor had told me applying now was a waste of time- I've slaved over these applications for nothing!:-(


I doubt it's because you haven't finished in 3 years - just because it's not finished at all. Someone who has completed the PhD is guaranteed to have one, and can probably start straight away, and focus entirely on the job. Imagine if you got 20 (I wish!) applications, and 19 of them had completed their PhDs and one hadn't - who would you shortlist?


======= Date Modified 16 Jan 2011 20:51:14 =======
I feel your pain. I know how long these applications take to put together. I've had 10+ JRF rejections and have given up trying to reason why. The last one informed me that there were 900 applicants for the fellowship = lottery. You may be (dis)advantaged by your discipline, by arbitrary preferences for research approaches by the different colleges, by your internal/external status, hell - even by your gender. These things are out of your control. I've talked to current JRFs and I can't fathom any common characteristics behind their success. The best feedback you can get is from a graduate admissions tutor, but unless you know one personally, they're not going to give any advice freely. Sorry for the doom and gloom, but I'm quite disheartened by the JRF system. Shame, because they're a very sweet deal.


Your CV sounds impressive. Have you considered applying for a postdoc in the US? I had similar (bad) luck when applying for postdocs in the UK but finding one in the US was very easy.

You also mentioned that the PhD wasn't finished yet. That can be a barrier for some PIs.

Failing that, you could try applying for somewhere less prestigious. You obviously come from a high-caliber academic background, and understandably may wish to maintain that pattern, however I know of many individuals who are quite content with having an oxbridge/ivy league degree and finding employment at any good institution.


Hey there,

I think maybe you're fishing in too small a pond. Oxbridge is a law unto itself and neither university operates like any normal one. This might be making it harder for you to secure the position that you want. It sounds like you have a lot of great stuff to bring to the table but if positions at the table are governed by personal politics then you may have to be prepared to fight longer and work twice as hard. Why not consider other unis. There are some with worldwide excellence in research quality and also tough to get into but they might look at your actual achievements rather than whether you 'fit' into the brotherhood. If you see what I mean. Going somewhere else won't be a step down if it has an excellent rep. Or as the person below suggests, why not try the US? Alternatively may be try again when you have your phd cert in your hand that might make a diff. After all anything could happen between about to complete and actually completing and this possibility may put them off. If you have it you have it. In any case with a superstar cv like that I doubt you'll be hanging about for long. All the best