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I am Ph.D. student in India working in computer science. I will be graduating soon. I have two options: 1) post-doc 2) join a "tier 2 institute" (i.e., an institution ranked between #11 and #20 in India) as a faculty. I don't have sufficient publications to join a tier 1 institute.

I am inclined to go for a post-doc because I want to improve the quality of my research. Many people are suggesting that I join tier 2 institute and then keep working. My research field (computational mathematics) is such that if I have to work alone then I can only publish one paper per year, but in a collaboration I can publish with more speed. Some people told me postdoc will impact you badly if you do not publish enough. I don't know what to do, but I want to pursue my carrier in research.

What are the pros/cons of doing the post-doc vs. taking a tier-2 faculty position?

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    And do you actually have offers for these positions or are you simply deciding which to try for? – Buffy Apr 13 at 11:39
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    "Joining as a faculty" normally implies a permanent position -- is that the case here? – cag51 Apr 13 at 21:56
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    You say these institutions are 11-20 in India; what would those rankings work out to globally? – cag51 Apr 13 at 21:56
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    @cag51 Would global ranking matter at all? – Mast Apr 15 at 11:40
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    @mast - I think so, if only because I don't have a great intuition for what the 15th best school in India is like, or how much "worse" it is than the tier-1 institutes. – cag51 Apr 15 at 14:17
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This depends on a number of personal factors. Here are some questions that I'd be asking in your situation:

  • How happy would you be with a career at the Tier 2 institute? Is this what you were aiming for, more or less, when you started your PhD? If so, then consider taking the job.

  • If you do a postdoc, how likely would you be to get a "better" academic job afterwards? And how much "better?" I wouldn't focus on the distinction between Tier 1 and Tier 2 so much; the characteristics of universities will differ greatly within each "tier". Here I'd ask the opinion of some senior scientists -- whoever wrote your recommendation letters, for example.

  • If you do a postdoc and don't get any academic job at all, how would you feel about this? If, for example, you would also enjoy an industry job, and those are widely available in your field, then you could consider taking on more risk.

  • Are there any personal factors at play? Are you eager to "settle down"? Do you have any responsibilities that require financial stability? Is the Tier 2 institute in a city where you'd enjoy living? If you do a postdoc, do you mind the prospect of moving again in a few years?

None of us on this website can answer any of these questions, but I suggest them as good questions to ask yourself. Best wishes to you!

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I'm going to come out and say something possibily controversial, but postdoc was the most enjoyable part of my career. I was trained enough to know what I was doing (at least a little), but I had none of the responsibilities of being faculty. I didn't have to apply for funding, teach, or be responsible for the success of a team of others. If my grant applications failed, at worst I lost my own job, I didn't put 2 or 3 others out of work as well. Now as faculty, not only do I have that responsiblity but 60% of my time is take up with non-research activities, and where I do get time for research, its mostly supervising others. Don't get me wrong - I think my team is great, and there is a lot of pleasure in seeing others succeed, and helping their plans come together.

Of course this is predicated the fact that as a white, british, middleclass, able-bodied male, with a partner who works remotely and is willing to move around 1) I didn't mind the instability and the moving regularly 2) If it all went belly up, and the jobs dried up, I would be okay - there were other careers that would accept me, and in the very worst case, I could go live with my parents without really making a dent on their living standards.

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    I have every advantage that life can throw at me. If I had failed, I would have undoubtedly continued to have had a comfortable and prosperous life, because in our society, its pretty hard for someone with my advantages to not do. – Ian Sudbery Apr 15 at 16:58
  • When I was an undergrad there was this program in the astronomy department for astro majors where you would go to a different professor's home for dinner once a week over the course of a term. We'd talk a bit about their research, but a lot of it was about what pursuing a career in astronomy was like. Interestingly, almost all of them said the same thing as you --- their postdoc years were the most enjoyable of their career for the same reasons you mentioned. By that time they had learned how to do research and their only professional responsibility was to do research. – Joe Antognini Apr 15 at 22:30
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About a month ago you said in another question that you had no offers. Perhaps that has changed. I hope so. But if not, I think your expectations are unrealistic. If you get an offer for a tenure track position from any of the top 20 institutions (in the US, say) or even the top 50, grab it. Carnegie Mellon is rated as 25 by USNews. Most academics would, I think, die to get an offer from CMU. Or University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign, rated 49, I think.

But for general advice, treat a post-doc, not as a thing of value in itself, but as a bridge to a tenured position. It can be a solid bridge, but the goal is the tenure track position in which you can build a career.

If you have a choice to step directly into a permanent position at a good place (never mind top 20 or even top 120) take it and avoid the bridge.

The exception would be if you were offered a collaboration by a top researcher (no matter where) in your field whose own reputation would be a boost to you. The institution would matter very little. Joining the collaborative circle of a superstar, is a boost.

Another exception would be an offer of a post doc at a place that uses them to "take a close look" at potential permanent faculty. I don't know that many universities are even allowed to do that anymore, but it was possible in the past. And even in the past, universities of that calibre were still required to conduct an honest national (at least) search even when they had a favored candidate.

But I'd also suggest that, if you are having any difficulty in finding any position, then you broaden your search. Your question suggests you have too small a target. It is possible, of course that you are capable enough to get hired at a "top" institution, but in any given field, the total number of offerings by the top 20 in a give year probably isn't too far from 20 or so. And with hundreds of potential candidates for those few openings.

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    Thanks for answer. I would love to join a institute which is in top 20 worldwide even 120 is fine but the institute is in top 20 within the india not in the world. – I_wil_break_wall Apr 13 at 15:21
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    I can't judge the quality of universities in India, having no experience. I expect there are quite a lot of very high quality. The grad students I had from there were generally very well educated. But I think the advice holds anywhere. The post doc is a bridge. Search widely for a position. etc. – Buffy Apr 13 at 18:51
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    @Buffy Going by the Times ranking the best Universities in CS in India, the top ranked one is in 125-150. For top20 we're talking 400+. Not exactly Carnegie Mellon. – Voo Apr 14 at 20:44
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    @Voo, I wrote it before India was specified. I left it as I think the basic advice is sound. And, the universities in India seem to be doing a good job of educating students, independent of their research rankings. But even 400 on a world wide scale is pretty high. – Buffy Apr 14 at 20:49
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Congratulations for getting the offer! It is really a privileged position to be able to chose.

Before I tell you my opinion on this, I think contextualizing my situation would help. I am also from India and I obtained my PhD from a 'Tier1' university in North America about 3 years ago. I was lucky to get a faculty position straight out of my PhD in a top 20 university in the world. I have eventually moved on to a good European university (not top 100).

In my opinion, a post-doc is a great option to elevate your research profile. I would consider it as the ideal option if there was not a faculty position it was getting compared to. The logic behind this is that a postdoc is a contract position and brings with it uncertainties. For example, there seems to be general consensus that a recession will follow the current pandemic. So, in a year or two are you certain that there will be faculty positions or postdocs on offer?

Further with regards to the 'tier' of the university, I would not place too much importance on it. As Buffy has pointed out, rankings are not an all encompassing metric. Even though I do not publish as many papers now compared to before, I do have much better work-life balance. I am less stressed and I invest more efforts into my students and classes. All of these are benefits which an get obfuscated by university rankings.

Again, take my advice with a grain of salt. I have made my positionality clear. Having never been a postdoc myself, I am sure there are dimensions associated with it I cannot fully comprehend.

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First, congratulate for getting multiple academic offers. I can only say for the situation of US. It is extremely unlikely to get any (tenure-track) faculty job right after finishing PhD (in the field I am familiar with), that if people end up getting one, they will almost always go for it over any temporary postdoc. position.

A few professors I know end up in switching institution when they rank up from assistant professor to associate professor. If that could be a possibility for you, you might want to consider it over doing a postdoc.

For more people (include myself), the alternative of "not doing a postdoc." is to work in a teaching position or moving to industry, due to either lack of outstanding research results (enough to get the degree, not enough to be competitive for an academic position), or simply due to personal preference/interest/etc. change.

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My own advice (I come from the U.S.A.) is that taking the faculty position (if still available) is far better, but of course I don't know your particular situation. A lot of factors would go into it, such as the distance to loved-ones, your family goals, etc. In general, a post-doc is not always very prestigious.

If the faculty position is tenure-track so much the better. (See comment on question for a question about this).

Either way, best wishes for your future!

My career has had many winding roads I would not have set out to follow, so enjoy the journey as opposed to fretting over the destination.

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Take the one where you are able to do the most independent research. Even just not having a position, but researching, can be best, in order to develop a profile in your field.

Then, tenure track will come to some extent for how well you are known, not how good an institute you have been associated with.

So I think postdoc at Tier 1 is best.

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