Sue was offered a post-doctoral position they did not apply for, by Sam. Sam and Sue know each other because they used to share an office. The topic is quite different from what Sue has known in the past. Sue is surprised and hesitates to accept. Had the position been externally advertised, Sue would not have applied considering herself unqualified, but Sam convinced her that she can learn on the job. Notwithstanding the impostor syndrome, Sue accepts, because she is about to be between jobs and the opportunity to broaden the skills are very valuable if she succeeds to do so.

The risks for Sam are quite clear: he may be too optimistic about Sues skills, and if she is unsuccessful, that will be bad for the project. But what are the risks for Sue in this scenario? In the scenario in which Sue is unsuccessful, how damaging would that be to Sues academic career chances? Is the value of an unsuccessful postdoc positive, neutral, negative?

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    Hmmm. Does Sam have motives beyond the job? Does he desire a non-academic relationship with Sue? If so, there is an obvious red flag here and it leaves Sue at the mercy of Sam's good will. – Buffy Jan 9 at 20:45
  • @Buffy Oh! No, I certainly don't think so. Sam forwarded a job opening to Sue for the attention of her husband hoping he could also find work in the same region. (Sues husband was interviewed but not hired.) I think Sam wanted to bypass bureaucracy normally involved with hiring and was aware Sue was looking for work, but I really don't think there's any nefarious motives. – gerrit Jan 9 at 22:24

Choosing the right postdoc is super important. Not many people will be forgiving to Sue if she explains that her failure to publish was due to her taking a position she wasn’t qualified for. It may be that some people would be agreeable to take her for a second postdoc, but that involves its own hassles and risks for an already unhappy Sue.

This is all if the postdoc goes badly.

If it goes well, then it could be seen as better than a postdoc in Sue’s field! Switching fields makes you a bridge between them and expands your skill set.

To conclude, high risks, but also high rewards!

  • Are you sure that not many people will be forgiving? Taking risks and then failing, is that so bad? – gerrit Jan 10 at 9:27
  • It’s often a numbers game. Should I take Sue who had a bad postdoc or Alice who had a great one? There’s one position to fill, often enough... – Spark Jan 10 at 10:14

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