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I am starting a new postdoc position with a professor who's retiring soon (<5 yrs, judging from the grad intake).

I am interested in pursuing an academic job and it worries me that I would not be able to count on him during my career, for support after he retires. Am I overly worried and exaggerating the benefit of having a senior scientist interested in your work in the early stage of your academic career?

Right now, I am thinking of doing as much work as I can and using his connections to do a second postdoc with younger and active PI.

Any advice would be appreciated!

  • Thank you everyone for helpful input! I think I was just surprised by the retirement news on the first week of my work which led to unnecessary amount of worries as always.. I will definitely communicate with him to make sure that we are on the same page about my postdoc career! Again thank you for your kind advice – Dododo Jan 5 '19 at 4:34
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You are overthinking it and maybe trying to plan too far in advance. Your current prof, after retirement, will most likely still be able to help you. He will still have his contacts and may still give you some, if less, feedback on your ideas.

You are right to maximize what you have now. But as time passes you will have the opportunity to fine-tune your future. You will know more in a year or so. You can explore with your current prof what he intends after retirement. It may be retirement in name only, perhaps. You can also get connected to his network as you work along, so that his direct presence is less important.

Far worse if someone leaves suddenly for any reason. That can leave you stranded. This situation seems well controlled with a lot of planning time.

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Before worrying too much, I think you should simply ask the professor about his plans for the future. Is he actually thinking about retiring, or is this a temporary wind-down? Also keep in mind that some people want to retire from teaching and administrative duties, but stay active in research or writing for a lot longer, while others will simply vanish the day of retirement. (The latter is rare, of course, but still happens.) The point is, if you form a good relationship with this professor, and they aren't the vanishing type, you might very well have their support beyond retirement.

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  • 3
    This begs the question if the professor is willing to share that information openly with a new postdoc at the very beginning of their professional relationship. – Ghanima Jan 3 '19 at 15:59
  • @Ghanima Sure, and the professor certainly has a right to not share this information (but in that case I suspect OP could learn something from the way their question isn't answered). Still, unless there are strong cultural or personal reasons not to ask, well, I think it's worth bringing it up and see what happens. – Anyon Jan 4 '19 at 13:42
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Some advantages of working with someone late in their career: They will be well-networked and knowledgeable in your field, so a good source of advice and expertise. As @Anyon states, many retired researchers continue to publish and attend conferences, so ongoing collaboration is possible. A good person of this type to work with would have many well-placed former students/postdocs/junior colleagues that he or she still works with, and be receiving recognition (awards etc) for their career contributions to your field. You would want to avoid someone who has maintained feuds with their peers since they will be prominent in your field too.

Some advantages of working with someone early in their career: They are looking to build up funding or reputation too, so there will be opportunities to collaborate on future projects. A good person of this type to work with would be getting early-career recognition (asked to chair sessions at conferences, for example) and have a good funding track record. You would also want to make sure they have a personality for collaboration. Some people can get a good start based on their own talent but are not able to mentor junior colleagues well.

Best of all is to get a mix of both, as you suggested.

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I am starting a new postdoc position with a professor

No you're not. Not really. You're being hired as a fixed-term (post-doctoral) researcher. It so happens that you'll be associated to this Professor's research group.

Now, ok, I'm describing this in the other extreme. But the point is that a post-doc is an independent researcher, first and foremost.

who's retiring soon (<5 yrs, judging from the grad intake).

  1. So you don't even know for sure?
  2. Is his output as a researcher and relevance to your fields of interest still significant? Then it's not even clear he's retiring. Or he may "retire" to become an active Emeritus. Otherwise, ok.

I am interested in pursuing academic job and it worries me that I would not be able to count on him during my career for support after he retires.

You're implying you're not worried about his support for the duration of your appointment as a post-doc researcher. If that's the case - then you're in good shape. A lot of people don't have even that.

Am I overly worried and exaggerating the benefit of having a senior scientist interested in your work in the early stage of your academic career?

You're not exaggerating the maximum possible effect of such support, but you are exaggerating its mean effect conditioning on its being extended, and its mean extent. So IMHO, this should not be a major consideration. The main questions could be:

  • Do you have interesting alternatives? Do Pros and Cons. If not, then be happy you're not busing tables.
  • Will you be working on what you want to work?
  • Are there other researchers around with which you can have some "cross-polination" or even proper collaboration?
  • Do they pay reasonably? (If not, you might still want to go there and help organize a researcher's union; this is not related to your question but I just cannot exaggerate the importance of unionization among junior academics)
  • How is the environment, housing conditions, spouse support if relevant, child care arrangements, etc. etc.

Right now, I am thinking of doing as much work as I can and using his connections to do a second postdoc with younger and active PI.

Start by "doing as much work as you can". If a second post-doc presents itself and is an opportunity for some variety, consider it - at that point.

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  • "But the point is that a post-doc is an independent researcher, first and foremost." No, some are but many are not. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 4 '19 at 15:01
  • @AnonymousPhysicist: Independent in the sense that you no longer need the guidance of a senior academic staff member to conduct research. Also, you will be expected to show initiative and independence if you want to advance - at least in all cases I'm aware of. – einpoklum Jan 5 '19 at 9:50
  • Most posdocs have supervisors. They may or may not need them. Your comment that "a post-doc is an independent researcher, first and foremost" is mostly wrong. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 6 '19 at 12:44
  • @AnonymousPhysicist: "Most postdocs have supervisors" <- 1. Can you provide a reference to some stats about that? 2. What's your definition of a "supervisor"? – einpoklum Jan 6 '19 at 13:22
  • 1. I don't do reference requests on Stack Exchange. Many universities have regulations on their websites requiring postdocs be supervised. At my university everyone has supervisor(s) without regard to their rank. 2. I define "Supervisor" to be the person who is required by the university to supervise (e.g. monitor their performance, and possibly tell them what to do) the postdoc. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 6 '19 at 14:42
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  1. talk with the professor about your concerns. Ask him especially how he sees his retirement. Many professors get a an office as emeritus, and effectively continues working.

  2. do not be overly concerned about the professor in the first place. Your role is different from when you where a phd student. Reach out and establish new contacts.

  3. Working with a professor that will become inactive (not the same as emeritus) means you have a unique position to take over expertise as he exits, if you are up to that task.

  4. As professor go emeritus, they often pull down on hours. If he will have half finished collaborations, research consortium's and funding applications you may get a piece of that cake as well.

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I think it will be fine, ESPECIALLY as a post doc. May even be better because his group will shrink and you get more time with him. Also post docs pull their own weight regardless. Plus older profs get more grandfatherly and supportive.

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