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My current computer science postdoc ends in the summer. I'm planning to leave academia after that. For the purpose of this question, because reasons I won't go into, we may assume I will never return to academia.

One of the peculiarities of the field of computer science is that research has not really happened if one doesn't travel to present it in a conference over 4 months after the paper has been submitted.

For all relevant conferences that take place before my contract ends, the paper submission deadlines have already passed. Since I don't know what my next job will be or in what continent I'll be living, I cannot commit to traveling to a conference after my contract ends. (And also even if I could, I would not because no matter what people say, I don't want to endorse such a practice.)

I currently have one ongoing project that I've been working on with my advisor. However, it is uncertain how much time is required to finish it. In addition, there are some ongoing projects in our group that I perhaps could join, but I don't know how much I actually could contribute to those projects.

Anyway, I'd like to spend the remaining work time of my contract doing something that's worth doing, when I'm at work working. It seems that there are no good solutions in my situation. But certainly many CS postdocs have had a similar problem before. Is there a solution to this that I'm missing?

  • Why don't you send your work to a journal instead of a conference? I know that conferences are important in CS, but there also seem to exist good journals in all subfields of CS. – lighthouse keeper Mar 3 at 22:28
  • @lighthousekeeper My advisor (that is, my boss who ultimately decides what I do and don't do at work) does not agree with that sentiment. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 3 at 23:02
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    Do you have a job lined up for after the postdoc? If not, finding one should probably be your highest priority. – Dan Romik Mar 4 at 1:16
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    @DanRomik I'm talking about things to do at work that I'm paid for. Exercising and keeping in contact with my family and friends are my highest priorities, but that does not matter here. This question is about my current work. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 4 at 9:56
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    Since it is CS, if there is some code involved in your work that may be used by others in the future, now would be the ideal moment to do all the cleaning up, refactoring and documenting. The documenting part of course also extends to other things you have done regularly, e.g. teaching or bureaucracy. – mlk Mar 4 at 10:09
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Perhaps your advisor has one or more students that could benefit from more mentoring than the advisor can supply?

Helping young graduate students learning to do research and write papers would be worth doing in its own right. If you are going on to an industry career mentoring junior programmers would be a valuable skill. It would be a different sort of experience to put on your resume when job hunting, not just more of the same.

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  • That in general sounds like a good idea. However, in my specific case the students in our group have much more experience in this field and perform much better than I have, so I don't think there's anything I can do to help them. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 3 at 23:03
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Your contract runs out and you want to leave academia but you still want to do something useful for your advisor. That is very honorable and Patricia Shanahan's answer has a good idea for that. But even if you don't do anything that your advisor finds useful, not a lot of bad can come from it (assuming you don't need recommendation letters, but academic letters are rarely needed in industry).

So go job hunting and polish your CV. Do some online courses or study some material that seems useful for your industry career. Slack off for a bit if you feel you need it.

You should set things up for a smooth transition for your advisors group, so make sure the other group members can continue your projects where appropriate. Beyond that it is ok if you don't produce any more ground breaking research in your last few weeks.

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  • That is indeed an interesting approach. However, I doubt it's good for my mental health to spend 6 months being paid for someone who would constantly complain that the only reason they're wasting their grant money on me is that it's too hard to legally fire me. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 4 at 18:51
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One of the peculiarities of the field of computer science is that research has not really happened if one doesn't travel to present it in a conference over 4 months after the paper has been submitted.

This is not true.

What is true is that if a researcher writes a paper, publishes it and then immediately afterwards leaves academia without doing anything to promote the work, then unless the research is obviously important/of very high quality, it will likely go unnoticed and will end up having little to no impact on the field. In that sense, it is as if the research “has not really happened”. But the point is that this is (almost) equally true for papers presented at a conference as for papers published in a different format. Conferences are of course important in computer science, but your logic of “there are papers I can write, but the conference deadlines have all passed. Oh well, I guess I’ll go find something else to do with my time” doesn’t add up.

Anyway, I'd like to spend the remaining work time of my contract doing something that's worth doing, when I'm at work working. [...]. Is there a solution to this that I'm missing?

If you have good ideas for research papers, involving research that you are excited about and think have value for the research community, the best thing that you can do is to write those papers and publish them - online, in a journal, or any other venue that it’s practical to publish in. This is the main “work duty” of a research postdoc.

Now, if you don’t have research ideas, or at least good ideas that you are excited about and think have value for your research community, then some alternatives to consider are teaching, mentoring, outreach, or developing software that might benefit our supervisor or other researchers. But I also wonder why you are staying on until the summer in the first place. A postdoc who doesn’t want to do research is probably not producing the maximal utility/happiness either for themselves or for their sponsor. The best thing to do may be to find another job as soon as you can and move on to a more fruitful/fulfilling employment situation.

Good luck!

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  • My boss needs publications for future grants. He does not do journal publications. The research does not matter if it does not result in a conference publication, and he does not want to pay me for such research. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 4 at 18:43
  • "The best thing to do may be to find another job as soon as you can and move on to a more fruitful/fulfilling employment situation." It might be a surprise to you, but they don't exactly sell fulfilling jobs at the nearest supermarket. – throwawaypostdoc Mar 4 at 18:46
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    @throwaway everything about the situation you’re describing suggests a toxic and unhealthy work situation. No postdoc does research because their boss “pays them” to do it. So again, I think you’re simply asking the wrong question. You shouldn’t be asking “how can I please my boss for a few more months?” You should ask instead “what is the best thing for me to do right now?” The answer is, find another job ASAP, and in the meantime keep working on whatever research you find interesting and worthwhile and promoting your research agenda through publishing, regardless of what your boss wants. – Dan Romik Mar 4 at 18:56
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    (That's why I also don't particularly like these off-topic answers that seem to be so common in SE. Yes, they're often good points in general, but I asked a specific question here because I want answers to that specific question. I can get general career advice and help for my mental health elsewhere. If the question is not good, then flag it, vote it down, or suggest improvements in a comment.) – throwawaypostdoc Mar 4 at 20:08
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    @throwawaypostdoc that sounds terrible. Run for your life. That’s all the advice I can think of. – Dan Romik Mar 4 at 20:09
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I've got a few suggestions, some of which have been noted already.

  1. Document your work. Make it easy for other people to pick up where you left off. This is especially true for coding projects. You also want to make sure that any logistical responsibilities you handled are ready to be handed-off as well.

  2. Assist someone else. Just because you can't go to a conference doesn't mean no one can. Perhaps there are tasks you can do to strengthen a paper a grad student is working on; there may be something time-intensive or disinteresting to the grad student that could get you authorship. You could also consider mentoring undergraduate students in the work you're doing; if you let them take the lead on the research, they can take the lead when submitting.

  3. Promote your existing work. Make your code and data open-source (if your advisor allows) and easy to understand. Set up or strengthen the web presence of your work. Reach out to people at your University involved with publicizing the research going on in your lab/department/college/etc. and find out what that process is like. Look for other opportunities to promote your work, like giving talks at a department, that might be specific to your situation.

  4. Just keep researching. Perhaps not directly applicable to the OP, but others might consider continuing on with research they don't intend to publish for the sake of whoever picks up the project in the future.

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