I will be a postdoc in the coming academic year. While I have not decided on where I will be in September, it seems likely that I will be a research postdoc at a decent research university.

An aspect of a life as a postdoc that I had never considered before is the following: what is your social life outside of academia like as a postdoc?

As a PhD student, I had a very tight group of friends; we were friends from day 1 in graduate school, and that friendship continued throughout. Our friendship strengthened by going through many difficult classes together, staying up all night finishing homework, and studying for quals together, not to mention talking about how much it blows to be a PhD student, and worrying about the job market.

I feel that I will not have this privilege as a postdoc. We are all there to do our jobs (i.e. research), and I do not see building the same kind of camaraderie amongst the newly-hired postdocs, for these reasons:

  • there are no excuses to spend a ton of time with one another (no homework, no quals to study for, etc.)
  • we will likely have different research areas, and possibly have nothing in common to talk about in terms of academics.
  • there are way fewer postdocs than there are graduate students. I would be lucky to have maybe three or four other postdocs hired with me by my department. Maybe we would get along, maybe we would not. I do not have the luxury of choosing the people that I like anymore.
  • at least some postdocs must have family. I have found that married people are less likely to yearn for a close friendship. This narrows down the possibilities for friends even more (not that I would discriminate against married people, but they often dissociate themselves from, say, a late-night out of fun).

I would love to hear from the people who hold (or held) research postdoc positions from PhD granting institutions. I feel that teaching postdocs would give different answers, as you would meet more often to discuss teaching.

  • 2
    I'm not sure this is answerable, beyond a bunch of opinions. FWIW, I don't think it's different to any other workplace (and thus completely different to being a student).
    – 410 gone
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 4:10
  • 13
    I think this is a great question. I am not aware of any other industries that use 1-3 year temporary positions as frequently as academia and post docs require you to build networks. As for the opinion based nature of the question, I don't see it being any different from other questions on AC.SE. Can the close. Others expand on what needs to be changed?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 9:39
  • 3
    You gave the answer in your question. Marry and have children, then you will not worry about this anymore. In that aspect I cannot help at all, but other people seem to be able to do that without too much effort or hassle.
    – Trylks
    Commented Dec 29, 2013 at 14:44
  • 2
    Do make sure not to discriminate against married people. It can be easy not to bother so much with having other friends if you're married, but I think it's much better for married people to have some friends besides their spouse.
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 20:44
  • 3
    I don't think that there is necessarily a huge difference in lifestyle between married and unmarried people of the usual age for a postdoc, at least in countries I've lived in. Having children is usually what makes a really big difference.
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 2, 2014 at 17:31

4 Answers 4


The special thing for you coming out of (what seems) a pretty demanding grad school time is that being a postdoc is not so special at all. In most ways, being a postdoc is not unlike any other time-demanding job. You come to work in the morning, spend most of your day there, and, in the evening (whenever that is, time-wise), you will more often than not go back to your home and stay there to relax a bit. You bond with your co-workers, but usually more in an "acquaintance" than in a "friends-for-life" way.

Anyway, it seems to me that you are thinking that you can only hang out with people on your academic "level". This has never been my personal experience at all. In all my work places, grad students often hang out privately with the postdocs that they work with, and many of the younger faculty staff often join in for ad-hoc parties as well. I guess it is all a question of how you want to appear towards your junior work mates. There are people that see fit to construct an image of aloofness towards their students, and others like to mingle. Nothing wrong with either, of course, as long as your work relationship stays reasonably professional.

  • 2
    +1 for pointing out that one needn't only socialise with people on the same academic 'level'.
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 18:29

My limited experience of postdoc life is that there can be plenty of camaraderie; it just depends. I certainly hung out with the other postdocs, got invited to their homes, met their families, at least to a limited extent. So, yes, there is some bonding

In some ways it is not that different from grad student life. While a postdoc is more like a regular job, and I think everyone likes the fact that you are not as dirt poor as a grad student, you also spend time commiserating with each other about the crappiness of the job and worrying about the job market. Depending on who you are working for, you may also spend time complaining about the boss (or bosses). Since postdocs on average last a shorter time, one is liable to see people come and go even more frequently than in grad school, which does make it more difficult to have longer term friendships.

Having said all this, it is probably a good idea to find other people besides those you work with to hang out with. This is true of any job, of course. One suggestion - go dancing!

  • 5
    +1 for finding friends outside work. I'm a postdoc, and the friends I spend the most time with at the moment are from dancing (swing).
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 18:36
  • 1
    Hi Tara. Yes, I had in mind swing dancing too. Specifically, West Coast Swing, the best thing since sliced bread. Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 19:55
  • No, that would be blues. =] The swing we have here is mainly lindy hop and a bit of charleston. But this is probably getting too chatty.
    – Tara B
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 20:43

Great answers here. Looks like all the answers are US-based (from what little I know about US academia)... so let me add how it looks like from a perspective of a European research lab.

Note that I say research lab because the association to the Uni is really very loose, mostly meaning rarely who is attending classes at the uni. It is a fairly big lab, and very transitional (not many people stay long). It comprises people that are:

  • PhD students (some of whom have a class or two to TA) staying for 3-4 years
  • Master interns (staying for 4-6 months) and PhD exchanges (staying up to at most a year)
  • postdocs (staying for a year, to at most two)
  • engineers (staying for anywhere between 6 months and 2 years)
  • permanent positions (researchers + professors)

None of us have classes together, there is many areas of computer science in the lab so most of us don't even share deadlines. As I mentioned, it's a transition place where a lot of people come and go very fast. Still the social life is quite fine. We meet on smoke breaks, coffee breaks, through officemates, through friends, ex uni buddies, cause somebody hears the accent of his nationality... I have a pretty active social life, at any point the group of friends I go out with is between 5 and 10 people. Some postdocs, some PhD students (both in their last years and just starting), an odd Master student on an internship, some engineers. Some people have teams that are much more involved, so they have team-nights-out, and I've heard of young supervisors inviting their students to social dinners.

One of the hardest parts for me is the fast pace of change: the group of people I went out a year ago has hardly anybody in common with right now. It doesn't mean that there weren't some nice friendships, but it's so easy to lose contact. Still, I also feel that I made some friends-for-life as well. A lot of different ways also exist for meeting people outside of work, such as dancing, language classes, evenings organized in town for foreign "students"...


I think you're making some unfounded assumptions in your question.

what is your social life outside of academia like as a postdoc?

When you ask this question, you then immediately turned back to academia. Your social life as a postdoc is, in many ways, whatever you want it to be. For example, a great deal of my social life outside of academia was a local group devoted to my hobby.

To address a few other points you make:

  • There may be fewer postdocs, but there is no reason your social life is restricted to this "tier". As I mentioned above, most of my social life was with non-academics, or at least non-academics in my particular lab/institute. I made friends with some of the faculty. With a few of the graduate students. With the research staff. There is no clubhouse with "Postdocs Only!" written in Sharpie that you need to rely on.
  • "There are no excuses to spend a ton of time with one another" - You're assuming this is true, but it's not necessarily true. I will say that, in my own personal experience, the most intensive time I spent in contact with other researchers was indeed during my postdoc, and there were some friendships formed "in the trenches".
  • "possibly have nothing in common to talk about in terms of academics." There is the commonality of being an academic. Insane PIs. Funding lines being universally horrible. Anxiety about finding a job afterward. Reviewer #2's asinine comments...
  • "I do not have the luxury of choosing the people that I like anymore." Yes, you do. It's called making friends. They just don't have to be postdocs.

Literally the most social I have ever been in my life was as a postdoc.

You must log in to answer this question.