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Is it possible to spend most of your academics career as a post-doc, or senior researcher in research institutes or in research groups, and get a faculty job later in your academics career? I mean, of course, it is possible, but how likely is it?

Field: Physics & Biology. Region: mainly Europe

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    Why would you want to? A postdoc is a stepping stone, not a career goal.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 3 '20 at 14:31
  • @JonCuster because I don't want to give lectures, and just focus on research?
    – Our
    Apr 3 '20 at 14:55
  • @JonCuster Also, I don't want to deal with other responsibilities that comes up with being a faculty, such as advising student, attending department meetings etc. I just want to focus on research.
    – Our
    Apr 3 '20 at 14:57
  • 2
    If you don't want to teach, why would anyone offer you a "faculty" job later? It sounds like you want to be treated as "faculty" without actually doing everything that implies. Unlikely. Very unlikely.
    – Buffy
    Apr 3 '20 at 15:02
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    Well, where I work we employ several thousand PhDs. Some do leave to become professors, and the last staff member I hired was leaving a professorship. Research is more than academia.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 3 '20 at 15:49
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What does "most" mean? Literally more than half? In usual circumstances it's highly unlikely. Let's say you start working on your PhD at the age of 25 and retire at 65, just to have nice round numbers. That's a 40-years long academic career. Now half of it would be 20 years of postdoc.

Out of all the people I've met in my academic field, math, I do not know one single person who has spent this long in postdocs. Off the top of my head the highest must be around 10 years, and the people in question had almost given up any dream of landing a permanent position by the end of it. Take it as you will.

I guess it can technically be "possible" for it to happen, in the sense that there is not some kind of physical or legal impossibility. But is it going to happen? I doubt it. Postdocs are hired for their promise of working well while they're at the institution, and justified or not, someone who's spent 10+ years in postdocs will be considered an underachiever in the eyes of many.

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  • Though not legally impossible, many jurisdictions in Europe make it legally hard. In some there are limits to the duration or number of consequtive temporary contracts. In others (Germany) there are specific legislation aimed at putting a maximum on the number of years you could be a post doc (there are ways around it, but it is a hurdle). Apr 3 '20 at 17:47
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I would suggest treating a post-doc as nothing more than a temporary, if necessary, bridge to a permanent job. It would be different in a place where a post-doc is open ended on a rolling, say, three year contract. But for fixed term post docs, just use them as a base from which to search for a permanent position.

I'll just have to guess, and my perspective is US rather than Europe, but after a certain number of post docs people will start to wonder why you haven't advanced. They might, then, lower your rating for any permanent position.

Of course, when times are tough in your field, then you may have few options but to compromise, but use every position to work toward a better one, at least until you have a tenured job.

However, you might meet such a goal, but only, IMO, if you become so incredibly, internationally, famous that people ignore everything else to get you. Possible, of course, but a risky path.


A "rolling" contract is one that guarantees you at least a certain number of years of employment after notice before you can be let go (other than for cause). So a rolling three year contract implies that if you get notice today (2020), you lose your job in 2023 rather than at the end of a fixed term.

There are people in the US who have such contracts and they are considered "safe", unlike post-docs. Professor of the Practice for example is for teaching faculty at some top US institutions (Duke, Stanford, CMU,...). While not tenured, the job is very secure, though not absolutely so.

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  • I am not aware of a single person hired after the 90s on rolling contracts of the type you describe. New clinical faculty are almost always hired on fixed terms with very short notice of nonrenewal periods.
    – user120011
    Apr 3 '20 at 15:24
  • @CJR, certainly for post-docs, the term is likely fixed.
    – Buffy
    Apr 3 '20 at 15:30
  • @CJR: Not too uncommon in smaller Europe unis.
    – user111388
    Apr 3 '20 at 15:47
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    As I tell my postdocs, the job of a postdoc is to get a job.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 3 '20 at 16:15

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