The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' --Isaac Asimov
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Student/Postdoc application spam from

January 1st, 2013 by eric

I haven’t even officially started as a PI (March!) and I’m already receiving unsolicited applications from international students to work in my lab. I understand it may not be easy to find and apply for jobs that are not in one’s native language, but using a service to mass cold-call researchers in one’s “field” (e.g. “microbiology”) in the hope of hitting someone that happens to have funding is not… ideal. I don’t want to discourage applicants from abroad but it is a waste of my time to deal with these shotgun-approach applications, so I’ve implemented a filter for them. Fair warning!

The most recent applications I have received are from a Chinese company ( that apparently operates a number of job search services, including,,,,, etc. These services all use the same mail server ( ( and the emails I receive include a hidden one-pixel tracking image hosted at (I really hate being secretly tracked). Since I mistakenly triggered the tracker I will probably now be further bombarded with these messages. There is no way (?) to block an entire mailserver in Gmail but I will start by adding the following filter to immediately delete what I consider to be spam applications.

In Gmail, add a “FROM:” filter with the following text: “||||||||||||||”

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jesse Carrie Feb 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

    That’s funny, indeed. I also just received the same request from, with the person applying clearly having not read any of my work. And this as a 4th year PDF! Thanks for the tip, Eric.

  • 2 Jesse Apr 9, 2013 at 3:50 am

    I just got one of these in my inbox, too. Thank you for confirming my suspicions.

  • 3 Dan May 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I got one of these too, and it’s hilarious because I am still an undergrad.

  • 4 Samuel Dennis Jun 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Same here, just got one from, that had no relevance whatsoever to my work. I am also a junior researcher and not very widely known, they must really be sending this stuff to anyone they can think of.

  • 5 Andrew G Aug 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I’ve had two in two days from resarchabroad dot net. How do you know whether the email has a pixel tracking image? And what do they do?

  • 6 eric Aug 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    To see whether it has a tracking image you can open the raw MIME message — in Gmail this is under ‘show original’. You might see an HTML tag with a “width=1px” or something along those lines. I deleted the originals but someone else might be able to post the actual code.

  • 7 Mar Aug 7, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    got mine!
    yes, thanks Eric for the post, helped me make sense of what was this about. I still have the email… Is this the code you refered to? That was the only part of the email that had an image tag..

    <br=3E<img width=3D0 height=3D0 style=3D"display: none" src=3D"http://k=2Erd= qy=2Ecn/images/photo=2Easp=3Fflagstr=3D2013080214423597ybu0p8g0"/=3E

  • 8 eric Aug 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Yeah, that’s it. Decoded it looks like this:

    <br><img width=0 height=0 style="display: none" src=""/>

    which shows that there is a 0x0 pixel image (a ‘web bug’) with a specific ‘flag’ associated with it — that is, a unique tracking number JUST FOR YOU, in this case ‘2013080214423597ybu0p8g0’. Don’t you feel special?

  • 9 DrMoth Sep 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Dear Dr _________________

    Thank you for suggesting a solution to this menace! I had been giving a blanket response to each inquiry. Talk about time waster. For grins, here is my standard response:

    Thank you for your inquiry regarding a postdoctoral position in my laboratory.

    Unfortunately, I think my lab would not be a good match for you. First, my research examines the evolution of plants and insects, whereas I gather that your work deals primarily with __________. Thus, your work seems to be in an entirely different discipline than mine. Second, my University is primarily a teaching institution; although we have one postdoctoral fellow at the college, the focus of the institution is primarily on teaching undergraduates. Thus, unless you plan to become a teacher at undergraduate college, I think this would not be a good place for you to receive postdoctoral training.

    I am therefore curious as to why you chose to contact me. Your search effort would probably be more successful if you targeted your inquiries a bit more narrowly. Perhaps you should research the laboratories to which you apply more carefully? Similarly, it is rather uncommon, within the United States, for postdoctoral scientists to contact prospective advisors ‘cold’, without either having had some previous contact (say at a conference or symposium), or without a general invitation to submit applications.

    I actually receive a lot of inquiries like yours from scientists in China, and frequently the research interests of the applicants are extremely poor matches to my work. I am curious as to where all of these requests are coming from; is there a commercial service or institutional advising program that is providing lists of prospective advisors for post-doctoral scientists? If so, it seems that many postdoctoral scientists are receiving very poor advice about how to pursue research positions in the US.

    If I were you, I would demand my money back.


  • 10 Marvin the Martian Oct 11, 2013 at 1:20 am

    I think you (writer & commentors so far) miss the point.

    The spam looks to me completely computer-generated, so it would not be a misguided attempt at getting a postdoc (a long mail about yourself instead of about how you fit into the prospective lab), but an attempt at getting the receiver to click on some dodgy hyperlink.

    The ‘from’ address was completely different from the ‘reply’ address; if ‘’ were an existing position-finding service (however inept) then it would have at least a web-presence and the email addresses would be the same.

    [I’ve left academia 5y ago and still get a handful PCR/compounds/conferences spam a day. But this spam was quite on-target; I think a good percentage of academics will click on the link that a follow-up email will contain (in my case GMail still doesn’t mark it as spam while this specific scam is around since a year; so a malicious follow-up email should often be able to sneak past defenses). As I now work in academic web services, I’m more or less here admiring their data-mining approach to (spear)phishing.]

  • 11 Rahul Oct 28, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    I am a 2nd year PhD student and I got one of these emails from someone looking for a Post Doc positions under me. Thanks for your suggestion on the gmail filter.

  • 12 PE in Dallas Oct 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

    They aren’t just spamming universities. I am a project manager in water engineering at a city. Just got one and it is only very slightly related to anything I do (water is the common element). Weird.

  • 13 Samantha Nov 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I’m just a PhD student and I have been receiving these emails already :(

  • 14 elizabeth Mar 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    1st year postdoc, received one of these (from … Not even remotely related to my field, much less my own research or that of the lab group I’m part of. Thanks for the suggestions!