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Earlier this year, I interviewed and received offers for two postdoc positions from competing universities, with one- and three-year contracts, respectively. The first is more related to my PhD, while the second is a bit distant but still in the general area of my discipline. I eventually accepted the second one for different reasons:

  1. It's in a multidisciplinary research centre, and the description was that I will be part of a large team working on a massive project, which I found really exciting and non-traditional.

  2. Huge amount of money is being poured into this centre by the government, so there's a good potential to grow.

  3. The project itself is interesting and I will gain different skills by pursuing it. The intended work was of industry-like nature

  4. The PI was extremely keen to have me onboard, which made me feel valued.

On the flip side, the university is large, but I will be working at a small campus. Most of the team are from one discipline and only a couple of members are actually from my discipline (say, for example, most of them are mechanical engineers, but I'm an electronic engineer). The PI is not from my discipline.

The disadvantages did not mean much to me when I received their offer as I considered myself joining an industry R&D department, which I also confirmed during the interview, and from the position description.

Once I accepted the offer and joined the research centre, I was shocked that I was assigned a very boring project that I will work on alone and doesn't fit my background. It's academic in nature, but with almost zero supervision. The potential to publish in reputable venues is small. I also found out that they hired another postdoc to fill the advertised position. This was a dead-end for me. I felt like I was put under a glass ceiling not to join the other university (a competitor). I deeply regretted accepting this offer, but at the same time, I cannot resign as I have just moved to a new city with a spouse and kids.

The good news is that I did a really great PhD on a hot topic, and was approached by 3 universities abroad to co-supervise PhD students distantly.

I communicated with my supervisor in this regards and expressed my feeling of being alienated and my preference to be integrated with the large team and be given a role as discussed during the interview. He agreed and gave me a task to do, but never replied to any email I sent later. He ignored me big time. Under the fear of being kicked out and putting myself and family in a financial hardship, 6 weeks later, I agreed to work on the project he assigned me earlier while working distantly with the other universities to keep my passion and academic career going. Ever since, our communication improved but still I feel isolated and doing worthless work.

What's your advice for me? Finding another job is a top priority for me but that is going to be hard due to job market trends and the limitation of moving with my family to a new city/country for another time (kids, school, etc). I have been in this position for 4 months - long enough to hate it.

6

You have been scammed. I recently went through a rather similar situation, see the thread below:

Persistent issues with salary pay as a postdoc in China: What can I do?

Apparently there are several cheaters fishing for foreign postdocs into such schemes. Tracing the parallel of my situation onto yours, I was hired by a Chinese university on a false salary expectation under their pretence that all my project ideas sounded interesting. They were keen in that I would convince my wife to move as well to another department, and kept encouraging us into joining the university later as professors. As soon as I landed and lodged, salary was "unexpectedly" irregular and much lower, and they started pushing to work 12/6 on other undiscussed projects. Their strategy of manipulation was exactly as you describe: no email communication unless where I complied with their demands.

I played their game until the end of the contract. I am sure they hoped I'd give up. I was actually benefitting from investing time on personal projects, saving money, and learning a foreign culture while they shunned me. I kept wondering whether they'd eventually kick me out, which they never did. But I do not recommend this line of action: I do not like playing games, and everyday I felt angry. Furthermore it is a waste of time, in the end.

My advice to you is that you focus 100% on networking and finding another job asap. Apply for an industry position within the same region. Of course the PI will feel you're up to something but try to keep this person isolating you. (A trick is to look miserable whenever you're seen.) They expect you to just settle, and they probably will not fire you unless given a good reason. So don't fall for any provocation, play victim, and invest heavy on getting a new position. How is your LinkedIn profile? Ever heard of The Cheeky Scientists Association? Aware of any networking fairs around your location? There is a lot to be done.

You will win: just bite the bullet and cheat these cheaters. Good luck.

3

That's a really annoying situation!

I'd start by seriously considering finding another postdoc position somewhere. It may not be possible due to the job market and because of your spouse and kids, but you need to find out if this is a possibility at all or whether it is not. Talk to your spouse about this and put out feelers for other postdoc positions.

If that doesn't work, look for other work in or around the city you are living in right now. This would mean leaving academics and that's a hard pill to swallow for some, but many, many people are perfectly happy not being in academics.

The final option is to find a way to make things work in your current position. I'm ranking this third because you sound like you lost trust in your supervisor and/or employer and that's quite difficult to recover from.

Good luck!

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