I am interested in the amount of postdocs one usually has to do before one gets a "good" faculty position while considering the apparent differences in various academic disciplines.

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    This is too variable to have any reasonable answer. It depends on what you do as well as the general economy and various field related issues. Somewhere between zero and infinity. – Buffy Jul 1 '19 at 17:44
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    It's too difficult to answer a question like this, there are so many parameters at play. – Erwan Jul 1 '19 at 17:44
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    In most fields, in the steady state, the answer is infinity. Many more new PhDs are hired as postdocs than postdocs are hired into research-oriented professor positions, so, on average, simply by dint of numbers, the new postdoc will never get a research-oriented professor position. – Alexander Woo Jul 1 '19 at 17:48
  • @AlexanderWoo but most, if not all, research professors were post-docs, so that means your premise must be false... – Solar Mike Jul 1 '19 at 18:02
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    @Solar Mike: Alexander Woo is talking about selecting from a sample space consisting of postdocs, not selecting from a sample space consisting of research professors. What he said and what you said can both be true if, for example, the process begins with 1000 new Ph.D. graduates such that 800 obtain postdoc(s), 30 go directly to a research-oriented position, and 170 go in other directions that never lead to a research-oriented position, and eventually of the 800 who took one or more postdoc positions, 150 obtain a research-oriented position. – Dave L Renfro Jul 1 '19 at 19:02

If you mean a tenure track position at an R1 school, the simple answer is "one" (no more, no less). And often you will have had preliminary interest (e.g. invited for talks) with some R1 target schools even before the start of the one post doc. IOW, people already know you are "in the mix" for plum positions. And you know it, too.

Of course, if you can get such a position with zero postdocs, go you. But this is still rare, even for superstars.

If you are heading to your second postdoc, the bloom is "realistically" off your rose. Look for teaching school positions at best. Or move to industry or government. You have too much to offer to wander around doing postdocs for your life. Academia is a "tournament" job system (Google it) and you are one of the vast numbers of "many are called but few are chosen".

[Note for pedants, the word "realistic" in the question title...]

  • There is a lot of room between R1 and "teaching schools at best". It certainly isn't a binary world. – Buffy Jul 1 '19 at 20:26
  • Sure. Depends on how you defined "good" from the student's question. At least I specified, how I defined it. (Basically "a professor like my advisor during my Ph.D.") And the answer is useful in reference to that restriction. [But I bet you're also out of contention for upper end non-Ph.D. schools like Williams or West Point, once on second post-doc. If you couldn't get it first go, what changes from more research experience? They don't even need that, that much.] – guest Jul 1 '19 at 20:28
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    This is not true everywhere, and probably not true in every field. – Erwan Jul 1 '19 at 20:52
  • Or in every instance. But the POINT is generalization. "Realistic", from question statement. OP is not asking for real analysis, all cases precision. But for insight. BTW, yes, I agree, it will vary from field to field and area. But still useful to have a starting point. Why not give an answer that says which fields/regions tolerate more/less. That would add real content to the discussion. – guest Jul 1 '19 at 20:56

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