I have spent 4.5 years on my PhD, writing my thesis, with just one average publication. I am 30yo with no work experience and don't want to go to industry. I have been looking at several postdoctoral positions and it seems every postdoc position needs representative papers showing proof for the work. Will I be able to get a postdoc and pursue academia?

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    Are you sure that a postdoc is actually a good choice for you? "I have no work experience and I don't want to go into industry" does not sound like a recipe for success to me. – jakebeal Feb 9 '19 at 12:52
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    It's strange they let you graduate with one publication. I thought in most places (if not everywhere) you have to jump over a certain threshold higher than one. – rg_software Feb 9 '19 at 14:21
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    @Optimistica what field are you in? Average number of papers in grad school can be very field and subdiscipline specific. – Tyberius Feb 9 '19 at 15:07
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    @rg_software That depends very much on the field. In many branches of math for example people may finish there PhD with no publications or only a single publication and will spend much of their first post-doc turning their thesis into publishable works. – JoshuaZ Feb 9 '19 at 15:14
  • I agree. At some positions they are looking for applicants with lots of papers. – user74089 Feb 9 '19 at 17:19

Your question is very much field dependent. In some fields it is acceptable to go without a single publication for your PhD (I believe this is true for some subfields in economics, literature and math). However, you are expected to produce according to your community's standards: for example, in the economics/maths examples above you are expected to have at least one or two working papers/papers under submission containing solid results that were discussed in some workshops. In the literature domain, I understand that there's a lot of focus on teaching, written essays and book reviews etc. (I get this knowledge secondhand, I'm far from a humanities faculty). In my field (CS/AI/ML) you wouldn't be allowed to graduate with one average publication, and would most likely not have been allowed to go 4+ years into your thesis, unless there were very unusual circumstances (you mention industry, so I'm assuming you are at the very least in a STEM discipline).

So, the question you should be asking yourself is: am I comparable to my peers in terms of my PhD accomplishments?

If you have a lot of amazing work that just needs a bit more time, you can either

  1. Ask your advisor to graduate in another year to let these results come to fruition under the umbrella of your thesis OR
  2. Put them up on ArXiv (or the equivalent) and list them there. This is not ideal, but at least it shows that you weren't idle.

From the perspective of a postdoc host, I would most likely pass on an application that's clearly lacking in publications, even if it is backed up by glowing references. I would be more inclined to accept one that is backed up by preprints, if they contained amazing results that are vouched for by people whose opinion I respect. Postdocs should be people who are able to support their own research thread without very close supervision (they should be more independent than grad students at the very least), so you should prove to me that this is indeed the case; this is a tall order without proof that you can actually publish peer-reviewed work in good venues on your own.

I'm sorry to offer an answer you most likely don't want to hear, and I wish you all the best!


A strong recommendation by a (ideally known - at least to your postdoc mentor) PhD supervisor should compensate and may even outweigh publications. That person might also explain why you have not published - for example due to null results which are just hard to publish in some fields, but nevertheless can be the result of good scientific work.

  • I hope so. I switched problems after a certain point. Just wrapping up my paper right now with 0 publications. My adviser explained what happened but it's hard to believe the committees won't "penalize" me. – user74089 Feb 9 '19 at 17:18

It depends mostly for which positions you apply: some postdoc jobs attract a lot of applications (prestigious institution, high salary, cutting-edge research topic, etc.), and some really don't: it's not so uncommon to see certain postdoc positions not filled by lack of acceptable candidate. Because this level of job is very specialized everyone with a PhD gets a chance, assuming you are not too picky about where you apply.

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