I’ve worked with a handful of clients applying to project-based postdocs in Europe. We’ve had some bumps in the road, as I had to learn the expectations of these postdocs. A successful reader recently gave me a few pointers, which are below. The most important is, these postdocs–although often in the humanities or social sciences — require the applicant to fit into a larger pre-existing project (similar to lab-based science postdocs). Also, they emphatically do NOT cover the revision of the dissertation into a book. In these matters they are quite different from the typical North American social science or humanities postdoc, which typically exists to support the production of a first book or series of articles based on the dissertation. Proceed with caution!
In Europe, especially as a result of the increasing importance of grant programs such as Marie Curie, they are the most common type of post-docs. The project’s over-arching topic is defined by the original team, and usually staff (post-doctoral and doctoral researchers) are hired only after the grant is awarded. This means that particular attention should be given to the fit of one’s research with the general goal of the project. I think that your suggestions on “how to tailor” are particularly useful in this stage: one should remain true to his/her interests and adapt them to the context at the same time. However, understanding the project’s nuances from the one-page published in the call for applications can be tricky. I found it useful to research the profiles of the team members, and see what their interest in the project may be and then pitch the proposal accordingly.
It is important to note that in these cases the applicant’s dissertation really belongs to the past: although it may be discussed in the interview (it was in my case) and must be mentioned in the letter, the goal of the post-doc is to develop new research on a new topic (which obviously may stem from the dissertation or build on some of its findings). In these post-doc there is no space for dissertation publishing, therefore the focus must be on the new project, which needs to be relatively developed and not just a vague idea.
Materials-wise, this spring I have applied to two project-related post-docs and both required:
– a CV
– a cover letter
– a project proposal (in one case the page limit was 2 (!!!), in the other 5 pages (2.500 characters) plus
– a writing sample
– only one required recommendations letters (two)
Your grant writing template works great as a template for the proposal (it was fine also for the shorter one), the difficult thing is to find that golden balance between the applicant’s research interests and the project’s scope and general goals.Sometimes the post-doc is expected to take additional tasks: one of the positions was for a post-doctoral researcher/network coordinator. Accordingly, things like international research experience and the coordination aspects of other service and job activities should be emphasized.
The interview covered the following topics: profile and research interests in general, dissertation, current research, project proposal (a lot and in depth – both theory, methodology and practical issues like organization of fieldwork and context specifics), future plans, availability to move to the particular country, and so on.