I am writing here to get good advice for my career. I completed my PhD in Mathematics last year. I was quite happy after my PhD that I have gained a PhD degree, but I don't have any idea what I could do with this degree. Normally people apply for postdocs after doing PhD to become more independent and gain more exposure to research in their field. However, what can they do if their supervisor does not support them to apply for postdoc positions? What if their supervisor says "you are not an independent researcher, so I don't think you could really sell yourself as an independent researcher?"

I am stuck in my career after having lots of negative feedback from my PhD supervisor, who always says not to apply anywhere, and just stay here (my country) and integrate yourself with your colleagues. How could someone stop you or discourage you to apply anywhere else in the world?

One of the biggest and toughest situations for me is the field I had chosen for doing PhD has no funding all around the world and I can hardly find postdocs in my field. And even if I find an advertisement of a post relevant to my field, my supervisor discourages me from applying by saying that that is not exactly relevant to the field (topic) in which you had done your PhD. It's so weird to me that is it necessary to have the same topic for a postdoc to apply in which a person had his PhD? Can't we slightly change our research topic relevant to the field (same background).

The main problem is to apply for any postdoc we need a strong reference letter from our PhD supervisor. What can people do if they doesn't know what their supervisor writes about them in the reference letter? I spent four years in my PhD and not once did I did realise that my PhD supervisor is unhappy with my work. But now when I am back in my country on completion of my PhD my PhD supervisor has negative thoughts about me that I can't sell myself as an independent researcher, I will need guidance and direction.

And he is probably true, because most of my work in my PhD was done by him. And he never let me be independent throughout my PhD. I don't even know how people find topic of research/problem to work on and how do they find techniques to attach on the problem. I had been given a problem with my supervisor and direction as well. I had done all the coding by myself advised by my supervisor and later analysing results and proving those results was done by him. In the end of my PhD when I was writing my research paper I put his name on it where he said no to me and writing paper solely with my name only.

Currently, I am a lecturer in my country. However, to survive in an academia I have to publish papers and supervise master's students. However, I am not feeling myself independent in research, due to the reason I am applying for some postdoc positions, where I have no support from my PhD supervisor. What should I do at this point? Should I leave academia? Should I go to industry? To join an industry what skills I do need to have? How can I make myself a perfect candidate?

I am really stuck in my career without having any support from my PhD supervisor after PhD. I am looking for some really good suggestions for my career. I shall really be grateful.

  • 3
    For questions on industry, try workplace.SE. For your academic career: why don't you apply for somewhat related postdoc positions and see what happens? You don't have to listen to your advisor anymore. Become independent.
    – Mark
    May 6, 2018 at 19:50
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    I applied for some postdoc positions but I have a doubt on my supervisor's reference letter who probably not writing good about me. I always got rejection where ever I applied.
    – S786
    May 6, 2018 at 19:56
  • I am a lecturer in Pakistan.
    – S786
    May 6, 2018 at 20:54
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    This sounds tough, but congratulations on making it through your PhD! To understand exactly what your advisor's judgment means (and what his recommendation is likely to say), it may help to know how others from your program or with your advisor have fared. Does this professor just encourage them to stay as lecturers locally? (Is this how this professor got started?) Or has he encouraged some students to seek postdocs internationally? May 6, 2018 at 22:17
  • 1
    His previous PhD student faced a tough time too while doing PhD with him. But the student was clever and he collaborated all his work with his second supervisor. But I came to know all this thing near completion of my PhD where the things was not in my hand and I had to complete my PhD in his supervision.
    – S786
    May 6, 2018 at 22:33

3 Answers 3


To answer the question about career advice:

I think that math is a particular hard field for folk to really find their place in, if pursuing a long-term career: there is less research money than in some other technical disciplines, and since math is a required "core" subject at many colleges and universities, it can make the teaching feel less satisfying to many instructors.

My advice: Go get a job outside of academia where you make money or make or difference. I'm currently a data scientist at healthcare system (I studied PDEs), and there are tons of industries that seriously reward mathematically competent people that can do good work. Many don't even care if you're an "original researcher".

Just as a short, anecdotal list: I have math-oriented, Ph.D. acquaintances at banks evaluating small business loans, in the petroleum industry building geological models, at social media companies doing research, at nonprofits working on high impact projects, in civil service creating policy, at logistics companies at the cutting edge of operations research, at consulting companies doing who knows what... the list goes on. None of them did their Ph.D. in the specific discipline that they're working on now.

Towards making yourself a good candidate: It's hard to give blanket advice, as it really varies based on industry, company, and sometimes group. I suggest that you start applying to jobs that look interesting. Just the act of applying will focus your mind on the sorts of experiences, connections, and skills that you may want to make yourself more attractive as a prospective employee.


Let me answer the following question out of many:

What if their supervisor says "you are not an independent researcher, so I don't think you could really sell yourself as an independent researcher?"

Based on the evidence you gave, your supervisor is right. You typically need 3 to 5 recommendation letters and some evidence for being able to acquire funding to get to the next level. If you get no support from your supervisor, these 3 to 5 letters have to come from someone else, and you gave no evidence from whom. As soon as you get a "yes" that these letters can be written, you can get them uploaded to a dossier service and reuse them for your next 100+ applications, but, the way things are described by you, you don't have 3 to 5 "yes", so, you cannot declare yourself independent enough. In short, you are not independent enough from the goodwill of your supervisor, and, since you probably don't have this goodwill, you might probably have more chances for positions that do not require this goodwill, i.e. (unless your internationally shine in your area) no assistant professorhsip positions this time, perhaps even not grants or scholarships. Maybe later, maybe not at all, but not now.

Otherwise you might simply lose months on writing 100+ applications and get zero outcome. If you sell yourself as independent while you are not, you simply spend time and money on letting others know how immature you currently are.

I would love it if you prove me wrong. I'm sorry for being that negative - I'm speaking from experience.


If you can't get letters from your ex-supervisor, try to get letters from your collaborators.

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    Welcome to Academia SE! Your answer may be getting downvoted because it is so short, and while it doesn't address the entire (overly broad, and highly situation-specific) question, your answer suggests a practical strategy. May 6, 2018 at 23:21

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