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I am a PhD in computational materials science, and I have been offered a stop gap postdoc position (at the moment for 6 months) by my PhD supervisor which I will be starting a month after my defense. Now, I have many manuscripts pending for submission and getting them out will be the highest priority for the next couple of months. But apart from that and searching for new opportunities, what should be my prime focus during this duration? My advisor is a handsoff person and will give me full freedom to pursue my interests. I want to stay in academia.

My plan: I want to upgrade my python programming skills and experience (I will be actively participating in kaggle competitions), and also want to work in incorporating machine learning in my field of research (something that is being done in my field). I also have to work on my technical knowledge and improve my experience with the numerical method I have used in my PhD research.

Keeping all this in mind,

Summarizing:

Will it be a good move for my academic career to explore new topics during this short postdoc position, try to publish something in an area I would like to work in the near future? Focus on get my pending papers out and learn new skills along the way?

I am really serious about this and I am confident that I can put my 100% effort in the work. My question is, as an experienced academic, what is your opinion on my plan?

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    Your #1 goal is to find a real post-doc position, so think of why that hasn't happened yet. Next is finishing up those papers, since that may help with the #1 goal. Anything else is gravy. Do not let anything new (much less competitions for goodness sake) get in the way of those. Don't think of it as 6 months, think of it as week-to-week. – Jon Custer Dec 5 '19 at 14:05
  • @JonCuster, or even a permanent position. – Buffy Dec 5 '19 at 14:09
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    @JonCuster That's exactly what my answer would have been. Can you convert your comment into an answer? – lighthouse keeper Dec 5 '19 at 14:12
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Your #1 goal is to find a real post-doc position, so think of why that hasn't happened yet if you have been out trying for a while.

Next is finishing up those papers, since that may help with the #1 goal. Further, once you do get another position where you want to chase after new things, you will find that time slips away.

Anything else is gravy. Do not let anything new (much less competitions for goodness sake) get in the way of those. Don't think of it as 6 months, think of it as week-to-week until you have accepted a job offer.

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Your career isn't going to depend on Python. I love the language but it would be poor use of your time. The answer of Jon Custer is the core of it, but I would also suggest that you spend time building a circle of collaborators and professional contacts. Use your advisor's base to develop your own. Reach out to people with similar interests. Attend any conferences that are available so you can meet people.

But, yes, make sure the papers get attention, build a notebook of research ideas to follow up on. Think about how to strengthen what you will say in applications, both in the CV and the SoP.

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