I am a PhD student in mathematics starting my third year with the goal of a tenure track position at an R1 university. I believe I have enough research completed that I could graduate this year if I chose to, however my funding situation allows me to stay in my program for up to 6 years fully funded and with little teaching obligation (I do have the opportunity to teach a full course over the summer and plan to do so). I am currently planning to stay for all 6 years, unless I receive a very good offer in my 5th year. I have somewhat different taste in problems from my advisor, so I am currently working on becoming a more independent researcher.

My question is on how to best take advantage of the remaining years of my degree. Is there anything more subtle than "do more research"? What can I do to prepare myself for a postdoc or otherwise get ahead? Are there things that can be done as a graduate student in this situation that cannot easily be done as a postdoc or that are much better to start earlier?

  • 3
    If you're moving out of your advisor's field, my advice is to go and present your work at conferences and start building your network. People knowing who you are and what you do will be very useful when it comes to finding a job. Sep 2, 2018 at 21:44
  • It is not so much moving out of his field as moving within it, and the types of questions we are each interested in would most likely end up at the same or similar conferences. I still think this is good advice either way.
    – mathochist
    Sep 2, 2018 at 22:12
  • The question is really too broad. You could do literally anything, even take up the guitar. Examine your goals more closely and figure out how to get closer. Career in Academia is itself pretty broad.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2, 2018 at 22:12
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    Note that there's a definite economic cost to staying in grad school longer - although you're funded, you'll make more as a postdoc or professor, and the sooner you start on that path, the more you'll be earning in each successive year. Of course you can certainly decide to trade off money for something that's more important to you, but you should know what you're giving up. Sep 2, 2018 at 22:37
  • 2
    Extra time during a Ph.D.? What is that?
    – Bob Brown
    Sep 3, 2018 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


Very interesting question, the answer of course depends on you and your preference. A few pieces from a Y3 postdoc...

  • Advice 1: Think of a skill that you feel as your biggest weakness. If possible, try working on improving it. This can be a management workshop, a presentation class, whatever. As a postdoc, having a well-rounded skillset is going to be useful.
  • Advice 2: Think of an area adjacent to yours which you considered to learn about, and then try to take an online course or something like that for it. Having broader overview helps a bunch.
  • Advice 3: Present your work to others. Write a bunch of profs of interest that you'd like to visit their lab and give a lecture about your PhD topic. But also, consider giving public-oriented "outreach" lectures, so that interested general public knows what's happening in your field. One feels this to be important, given we're usully paid from their taxes.
  • Start writing that book that you always wanted ;)

As a third year student who is ready to defend their thesis at the end of the year (start of fourth year), with six years funding, I'd recommend:

  • Writing your thesis; and
  • Starting your job hunt.

You can "hang around" at your current institute until you find the right position.

A PhD is training. You claim to be complete, so move on.*

*I've deliberately used "claim," you should consider whether you are really complete.

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