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I am finishing my Ph.D. very soon, with the only thing remaining is the thesis defence, which hopefully should go smoothly. My goal is to go into academia, so I started looking for postdoc opportunities. What I am looking for in this position is to have more publications so that I could eventually find a tenure-track position.

I recently got an offer from a university in a nearby city, and I was about to accept it. However, my advisor heard about this, and he suddenly wants to keep me as a postdoc himself after I finish. While I see some positives and negatives in both offers, I feel that there is a higher chance for me to produce publications if I stay with my current advisor. So I am considering staying.

I am just wondering that if I stay, will I be viewed in a negative light by future faculty selection committees, seeing that I stayed in the same place as a postdoc where I did my Ph.D. with the same advisor?

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    What is your country? In some countries (in small unis), it might be useful for faculty applications if you stayed all the time in the country (as you know local profs, language and procedures).
    – user111388
    Aug 31, 2020 at 18:06
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    Did you change universities before your PhD? Other ways you've worked at several institutions? Aug 31, 2020 at 20:04
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    I am in Canada, so that does not apply here. Yes, I changed institutions three times in three different countries when I did each of the three degrees.
    – user18244
    Aug 31, 2020 at 20:07
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    All bets are off in 2020. Whatever you do will be ok - you'll be able to explain anything away on the covid crisis
    – D Duck
    Sep 1, 2020 at 19:22

11 Answers 11

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As someone hiring post-docs and staff members, I am leery of someone doing a long (defined as ~ >6 month) postdoc where they were a PhD student, particularly with their same advisor. Why? To me, the purpose of a post-doc is to have a clear demonstration that the new PhD can move into an at least slightly different area and rapidly come up to speed and be productive on something new. Staying where you are just means finishing up loose ends, whether correct or not. If in the 6+ month range, you've got some explaining to do to me in the interview.

I'm not upset by a few-month "postdoc" with their PhD advisor, finishing up things, as they are looking for the next position to come open. But a post-doc has to be something new - it is the time to show off your new-found abilities to learn and make progress. Why? Because that is what you are going to have to do for the rest of you career. You aren't going to keep doing your PhD project for the next 30+ years.

For my postdocs, what does showing off look like? We hand them a project, and expect that within ~3 months there should be progress sufficient for starting to submit abstracts to conferences. And then they get another new project to get going, with abstracts going out on it 3 months or so later. The point is that in the first year there should be conference presentations and papers heading out the door on the new work at my institution. They should have an interview talk based on that work. That is what a postdoc should look like, and what I look for out of their postdoc when hiring new staff members. And that does not seem to happen for a postdoc staying at their PhD institution under their PhD advisor - it is just too easy to wrap things up, not start new, well defined projects that are different.

I would like to add that for the next 2-5 years (or more based on what happens) I will be much more flexible with this. Clearly the pandemic is not going to help anybody's career trajectory, and the constraints on jobs, moving, and everything else will make life for grad students and postdocs far more complicated than usual (and everyone else, too). Still, choose wisely - what will make you better at what you want to do?

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    I appreciate the points you make and my point is about "ought" rather than "is", but I think that this view can be quite damaging for post-docs and PhD student (myself being one). The pressure for people to constantly move between cities and countries, uprooting their social support networks just to fufill some criteria set by senior academics who are likely very settled in their life frustrates me no end. Perhaps this should be considered more when people discuss the mental health crisis for early stage academics. This isn't a direct criticism to you btw, more at the system itself :)
    – user438383
    Sep 1, 2020 at 9:24
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    @4galaxy7: I didn't see anything in this answer about constantly moving between cities and countries. The one move discussed in this answer is moving away from the influence of one's advisor and towards academic independence.
    – Lee Mosher
    Sep 1, 2020 at 11:41
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    You are right - the poster answer didn't explicitly say it's necessary to move cities/countries, but a natural extension (at least in my country) of leaving your supervisor is that you need to at least switch cities, since it's unlikely someone else in the same institution will happen to have funding to hire a post-doc in the specific area. Anyway, this is just a rant and something I feel strongly about, and not suitable for comments, so I'll leave it there.
    – user438383
    Sep 1, 2020 at 11:51
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    The numbers given are probably field-specific.
    – Reid
    Sep 1, 2020 at 16:20
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    @4galaxy7 I see your point, but I don't think you should generalize your feelings to everyone. I'm also a beginning postdoc, and find the endless mobility is one of the nice features of academia and it also pushes one to grow as a person. Apparently, scientists can be either 'nerds' or 'adventurers' (nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2011/07/19/…) which is maybe what makes the difference. But anyway, the odds for tenure are so slim, that I wouln't make big decisions that jeopardize mental health to get there, if they weren't fun by their own.
    – Wouter
    Sep 1, 2020 at 18:57
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Publications

I feel that there is a higher chance for me to produce publications if I stay with my current advisor

One of the very best outcomes of a postdoc is publications. Academia is essentially built on publish or perish. All other things being equal, I would go where your chances of publication are the highest.

I would also explore options for collaborating with the PI overseeing the potential postdoc in the nearby city. Is there still an opportunity to broaden your network by doing some collaboration? Just a thought.

I have evaluated a few job candidates who have a postdoc. (I work in industry, not academia). I usually do not care where they did their postdoc. I care what they did. Generally speaking, I would much rather take a candidate with three publications with their old PhD advisor than someone with one publication at an institution different than their PhD granting institution.*

Network

One thing I will mention is the benefit of opening an entire new network of opportunities by going to a new institution for a postdoc. At my former PhD institution (call it U of X), most PhD grads end up in some low level academia position (community college, non-research teaching university, etc.) Networking was really tough at this university.

At U of X, I shared an office with a lady who had an opportunity to do a postdoc at U of X. She had published several papers with her advisor already and likely would have published many more. However, U of X has mediocre to poor faculty networking (a discussion for a different day. Long story short, when a department hires a bunch of their own PhDs as professors, it's not good for networking). She decided to leave to another institution for a postdoc. She only published one paper during her postdoc, it just happened to be a really good one. She now is a researcher at an Ivy League school. Her postdoc blew her networking wide open.

Be careful to examine where postdocs from both opportunities end up. Network matters a lot in getting your first "real" job. Do not compromise network for one or two extra publications.


*Do note that I would question a postdoc who did his or her BS+MS+PhD+Postdoc all at the same place. It might not be a deal breaker, but it would certainly make me wonder if there are some underlying issues.

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    "I would question a postdoc who did his or her BS+MS+PhD+Postdoc all at the same place" What if they were Ivy League, or some similarly prestigious school like MiT or Oxbridge?
    – nick012000
    Sep 1, 2020 at 6:06
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    @nick012000: Absolutely, and in fact perhaps more so, because I might wonder if the candidate was able to function outside a highly privileged environment.
    – Reid
    Sep 1, 2020 at 16:21
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    @nick012000 If they were so great that they could do a PhD/Postdoc at Harvard, why not drive up the road to Princeton? It's not the quality of work I worry about here--it's the fact that they just spent the last decade plus at one institution with one way of thinking.
    – Vladhagen
    Sep 1, 2020 at 16:47
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    @Vladhagen what if they had family, friends and a house In Harvard and didn’t want to leave that behind them? It’s down to a lack of imagination that one could not find a better criteria to discriminate between candidates than whether or not they’ve stayed at an institution their whole career.
    – user438383
    Sep 1, 2020 at 19:11
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    @Vladhagen "They'll move, just like all the rest of us when we get a job". A very American attitude to things like your center of living. Just beware that the same does very much not apply to large swaths of the rest of the world.
    – Voo
    Sep 2, 2020 at 14:39
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This is probably more a function of what you do and how you present it when applying later than anything. If someone stays because they have nowhere else to go it is a bit negative, but your description can be stated as a positive thing.

You are likely taking your current research further than you could otherwise. It isn't just the publication count, but the significance of what you can produce.

In a new position (in some fields) you will have constraints on what you can do, depending on the PI. Not so much in mathematics, perhaps, but more in some other fields.

I'd suggest that you can make it work either way, but think about how you present your choices when you move on.

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People have lives, so hiring committees hiring tenure-track faculty should not be jerks about something like this. My mom stayed at the same institution for undergrad and PhD because she was a single parent (of me), and my father and soon-to-be-stepfather were there.

The point of a postdoc is to show that you can work more independently and establish your own research program. You can do that while staying at the same school. Just...do that.

It depends on the field, but in many fields there is no longer any expectation that you can do a single postdoc and then apply successfully for tenure-track jobs at research-oriented schools. (It shouldn't be that way, but it is.) In these fields, you'll probably be doing a second postdoc somewhere else anyway.

What matters is the quality of your work.

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    They should not be jerks..but are they? (In my experience, many are.)
    – user111388
    Sep 1, 2020 at 21:49
  • +1 Even to an audience of jerks, the quality of your work may matter more than whether you moved for your postdoc. Sep 1, 2020 at 22:40
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    This issue here is not staying at the same institution for a PhD after an undergraduate degree, it is staying at the same institution for a postdoc after a PhD. The two cannot be compared. And most people in academia don’t take “life got in the way” as an excuse. Maybe they should but most don’t. Sep 2, 2020 at 3:09
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I'll keep it short. At least in the UK I've never heard of it being seen negatively if you did a postdoc after your PhD in the same research group under the same supervisor. Most PhDs I know prefer to get a postdoc in the same group if they can. I also believe it's more efficient.

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  • To bring a counterpoint to this perspective, in NA I've never heard of it being seen positively, although there some instances where it's not seen negatively. Sep 2, 2020 at 12:30
  • It isn't necessarily seen negatively, but in many places it is seen as not having done a postdoc, just an extended phd. You may still manage to demonstrate the qualities an employer is looking for, but you need to be careful what you do during that "postdoc" so your application is convincing. Sep 2, 2020 at 16:40
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Clearly, there are some people in the community who will make judgements based purely on the fact that you have or have not moved institutions. However, I think that is not the real issue here. The more significant factor is that changing institution tends to provide opportunities to develop a broader academic profile and perspective. Thus, individuals who move around tend to gain a competitive advantage over those who do not, and come across as more impressive candidates in an interview situation.

Of course, this is a sweeping generalisation, and one can easily think of individuals who provide counter-examples in both directions. However, moving tends to provide a number of opportunities, including:

  • Change/evolution of research focus;
  • Exposure to new ideas, techniques and ways of working;
  • Exposure to different opinions on which problems are important in your field;
  • Access to a different set of resources;
  • An outsider's perspective on your former group's work, and its strengths and weaknesses;
  • Access to a wider pool of potential collaborators;
  • Opportunity to re-evaluate the projects and activities that occupy your time, and to have a 'fresh start'.

These will tend to have a positive impact on your overall academic profile, and help when you come to apply for jobs and grants. Thus, while there is certainly a short-term productivity cost associated with moving, in the medium/long term it pays off.

It is worth noting that most of the above benefits can be acquired without moving, if one makes a conscious effort to seek them out.

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  • +1 to “ changing institution tends to provide opportunities to develop a broader academic profile and perspective”, which is what a good postdoc should provide. Sep 2, 2020 at 3:05
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I am an example of somebody who did a postdoc in place, with the same professor and same grant. In essence, I spent an extra year at my institution while I organized my job search.

Since the time leading up to one's thesis defense is often quite stressful and chaotic, a postdoc in place is a quite reasonable and normal option. Yes, it's preferable to be writing your thesis and searching for jobs at the same time, but that often just isn't an option for many and varied reasons. These are also often additional complicating factors, such as the timing of a partner's degree or other career steps.

Furthermore, since academia tends to work on an annual cycle, if your timing happens to not be well aligned with that cycle, it's easy to end up with a full year or so of gap. For example, somebody who finishes and starts organizing their search just after the Spring hiring season completes could easily end up on 15 months of postdoc, from the end of the Spring semester to the beginning of the Fall semester a year later when a new position starts.

I would thus not be at all concerned about somebody who spends up to a year or so in a "transitional" postdoc. Once I saw it stretching to two or three years, however, I would begin to be concerned about the ability of the person to be an independent researcher.

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One of the most important things as a post-doc is to show the ability to work with different people and independence (both is best, either is good).

If at all possible, try to publish your papers which do not include your supervisor as an author -- these can be solo author, or with other people. It is OK if these are "lesser", the important thing is to avoid someone looking down your publication list and see one name which occurs as a co-author on every paper you have ever been involved in, which can set off alarm bells.

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I think it's important to remember that not all publications are equal, and your publication list is not just the sum of its parts.

You say that "there is a higher chance for me to produce publications if I stay with my current advisor". True, but the point is that hiring committees know that too, and may take it into account in deciding how much weight to give those publications, particularly if your advisor is also an author on them.

I'm not saying that moving is necessarily better, just that staying being the easier way to get publications isn't on its own a good reason to stay.

(By the way, I have never been on a hiring committee so don't speak from experience.)

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To my mind, it doesn't matter where you go but you do need to eventually demonstrate independence. Basically, it can be harder to do this with your own supervisor and it can also be quite difficult to shift from being a "student" to "collaborator" (for both of you actually). This said, I'm sure there are stacks of opportunities outside of the current supervisory sphere so if you stay then make sure your future network is not identical to theirs (overlap yes, but hanging off their coat-tails entirely as a postdoc will be viewed negatively). Are there small project funds or perhaps students you can supervise with someone else to demonstrate your broader network? My advice to PhD students is you need to work out the strengths and weaknesses in your CV. Then, pair with someone who compliments your research strengths (and hopefully compliments any research weakness - ie they are strong there) and have a frank conversation with someone you trust about how you make sure you are independent and your CV is as strong as it can be. This might be your PhD supervisor or another mentor (perhaps both).

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It is difficult (but not impossible) to demonstrate that you are capable of independent research if you continue working exclusively or at least primarily with your former PhD advisor. It doesn’t mean you should burn the bridges with your old boss, but you should clearly establish that she or he is no longer in charge of your research agenda.

You could demonstrate independence by developing other collaborations, but then why stay in your original group?

A successful transition to another group or institution is always advantageous over continued success with your former PhD advisor.

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