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I noticed that a few people in my field (Computer Science / Community Informatics) have taken up post-doc positions immediately after their PhD but within a year of starting those post-docs have been promoted to Lectureships either internally or in another academic organization.

The individuals concerned have been very active in their field, and published considerably either during their PhDs or immediately after their PhD write-up or often both (so I do feel like they've earned this!).

Is this a common practice for academic recruiters (project managers, professors) to employ someone like this for 18month/2 year/3 year contracts knowing that most likely in a year or two they will be promoted or hired by another institution?

And as a recruiter/senior academic, do you encourage this kind of rapid promotion even if the individual doesn't fulfil their full contract length?

Any responses, particularly from people who've made switches like this or hired people like these would be appreciated!

  • How possible or common this is depends on place. Various rules might make it impossible. – Buffy Sep 21 at 10:57
  • Hi @Buffy, what is it like in your context? – BykerHero Sep 21 at 11:58
  • Background first. Universities sometimes like to bring someone in to a temporary position (post doc) to get a look at them and see how they fit before hiring them, or because they don't have an open position at the time. But, the important point is that many (most?) US universities are bound by rules (maybe laws, but I don' know) to advertise widely for any position and to fairly evaluate all applicants. This can make it hard/impossible to just move a post doc to a tenure eligible slot. – Buffy Sep 21 at 12:02
  • I suspect that post doc contracts can always be cancelled by mutual consent in every jurisdiction. I don't see that as an important concern. But there may be restrictions on how flexible a university is to hire a person of "choice" without a proper search and evaluation. But I don't know anything about UK rules on that. – Buffy Sep 21 at 12:05
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    @Buffy in the UK, the rules do require proper search and evaluation, but I get the impression that is a less onerous process than in the US. We have to advertise the position for about 30 days, shortlist based on the posted job criteria, then interview a subset of the people who fit the required criteria (which might be only one person), and then record why you picked X person and not Y and Z person, again, based on the job criteria. If you are lucky you can have the whole thing done with in less than two months. – GrotesqueSI Sep 21 at 20:00
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Speaking for the UK, it is understood that the local group of postdocs are likely, and even encouraged, to apply for lectureships that come open. Further, it is expected that they will be applying for permanent positions elsewhere as they come up as well. It's not unheard of for a postdoc to be offered a permanent position at another University only to be emergency hired into a permanent position at their post doc institution. As a postdoc is just the first step away from a PhD, everyone expects them to rise and no one begrudges anyone who doesn't stick out their whole contract when something better comes along. This is the normal state of play and it may be the only way to stay continuously employed.

Case in point, we had a post doc on one of my projects who we knew, for reasons of redundancy, would never be hired permanently at our Uni. We told them to keep their ears open for a Lectureship elsewhere because of this, and 2.5 years into the 5 year project/post, they were hired as a Lecturer in another Uni. Well done. We had to hire someone else for the last 2 years of the position. That person, in contrast, did not apply to other positions in that time and when the contract was over, became unemployed.

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    The same goes for my (first- and second-hand) experience in mathematics, in both the US and Western Europe. – PLL Sep 21 at 18:40
  • This is field specific. In my field its fairly unusual for a PDRA to be hired into a lectureship in the same department. I can only think of one person in the my (UK) department who arrived by that route. Although common for PDRAs to leave to take up positions before the end of their contract. – Ian Sudbery Sep 23 at 12:00
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When I recruit postdoc it’s under the assumption that they are taking on a transitional role. In some sense I believe it’s in both our interests to have them leave sooner if possible. It’s good for them (pay bump, tenure career starts etc), and for me it helps since it signals to future postdocs that I’m able to get them on the right track to a faculty position.

In some cases it’s the opposite: a person has secured a faculty position straight out of PhD, and then postponed their start date to take up a one year postdoc (in MSR/Facebook research etc, or with another research group). This is usually done to build up one’s professional network before committing to a department.

  • Thanks @Spark. Shame I couldn't pick two 'best answers' as picked the other one simply because it elaborated on your points a tiny bit more! – BykerHero Sep 21 at 20:09

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