15

I am currently deciding where to do my next Postdoc. I have had many Interviews, and have two solid offers on the table.

The first offer is in a highly ranked private University (not Ivy League nor MIT), with a professor who seems real nice.

The second offer is from a somewhat lower ranked institution (State University) but I clicked way better with the professor.

Both opportunities seem really appealing for me but I'm wondering whether later hiring committees will look at which institution I worked rather to with whom I worked, both professors are rather young and are just starting shop, so is not a matter of a renowned professor either.

I'm probably just looking to see what you would do if this were your situation.

6
  • 3
    There's a lot to be said for working in a supportive, co-operative workplace. You may find you're more productive, collaborate more, more keen to do the actual work, etc if you like the people you work with. Jan 9 '14 at 4:18
  • 5
    It's worth double-checking that you're right about which school is higher "ranked." It's common for state universities to have departments that are very highly ranked, even if their undergraduates are ranked somewhat lower than top private schools. Jan 9 '14 at 5:00
  • 10
    at which institution I worked rather to with whom I worked — Neither of these is the most significant bit. What matters most is what you publish.
    – JeffE
    Jan 9 '14 at 5:54
  • 2
    I'm not in the US system, so take that with a grain of salt, but I'm with JeffE. Go to where you think you will do best research. From your sparse info this sounds like Prof. 2, but you'll have to decide for yourself.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 9 '14 at 8:00
  • 3
    I'd like to chime in and point out the possibility that what you publish, or more specifically where you publish your findings, might not be entirely independent of with whom you work. That being said, I'd personally go with the person I have a better chemistry with, all in all better communication, leads to better collaboration, which in turn hopefully leads to better publication.
    – posdef
    Jan 9 '14 at 15:32
2

There is no definitive answer.

I'm probably just looking to see what would you do if this were your situation.

My own personal experience (coming from the other side of the question): I recently accepted a tenure track position at a university. I'm very happy with the position.

During my visa application process for the new position, the consulate gave me a letter that the university had sent them as proof of employment. The letter contained details of the hiring process. There I learned that they had offered the position to someone from Oxford before me; someone older with half the publications and one-sixth the citations I had. The letter stated that he was first choice because he had a strong research profile and he was coming from a reputable university. I was coming from a strong department in a "provincial university" in a small country. The other person turned down the position. I accepted.

I was a bit stung by the letter because I read it as an implicit rejection of my background (over which I had little control).

Someone also told me later that in the board meetings, during the hiring process, there was a professor who raised concerns about where I was coming from ... a "provincial university". Apparently the more bureaucratic members of the board were my most fervent supporters: I had a lot of highly-cited publications, I was sure to bring a lot more, who cares where I came from? I wasn't told the full details, but I inferred that some of the more senior professors seemed to be more attracted to the Oxford thing than raw research metrics.

(Of course the hiring process was much more complicated than that; but this was the gist of the letter and the bits and pieces I heard afterwards.)


I'm not sure if that anecdote is useful to you but again there is no universal answer. It depends entirely on your situation.

I would say that yes, in many situations, the university you do your PostDoc in makes a difference for your future career. I don't know the US system well, but I guess it would be even stronger the case there.

But you and your personal publication record are far more important.

My general advise would simply be to pick the university where you feel you would be most productive (in a "healthy" way).

4
  • 3
    +1 "pick the university where you feel you would be the most productive". In other words, the answer to this question depends on how you see "a good working relationship" as affecting your productivity vs "a high-ranked university". Different people might come up with different answers.
    – Suresh
    Jan 9 '14 at 16:18
  • That story is rather disturbing :(
    – xLeitix
    Jan 9 '14 at 17:55
  • I usually say that the name of the university counts for less in Europe than in the US, but maybe I need to revisit that thought (I assume you accepted a position in Europe?).
    – xLeitix
    Jan 9 '14 at 17:56
  • @xLeitix, I came from Europe to Latin America. It all worked out well in the end. :)
    – badroit
    Jan 9 '14 at 19:49
2

Overall, you should go where you will be happiest. Don't be afraid to go to a school with a lower reputation if you think it is better for you.

That said, there is more to being happy than "clicking" with the professor. I would just say that you should be cautious about overvaluing "clicking" relative to other things. There are a couple details I would consider.

Does (or will, if he's new) the professor have a notable research profile? If he is new as you say, do you think he will build a sizable research profile quickly? When you apply for later jobs, you'll need letters of recommendation. A strong letter of rec from a prof whose research everyone knows, even if he is at a low-profile school, will serve you better than a rec from a prof whose research is not read or valued, even if that prof is at a prestigious school.

What is the department as a whole like? And, if it's a postdoc where you'll be working on a particular project, what is that project like? Are the other people working on it good people in both a personal and professional sense? Where did they come from? If you see that the project/department attracts high-caliber people, it is a good sign. Also there is always the small chance that the professor is nice and clickable-with but has problems with practical/logistical matters that make working with him difficult.

Of course there are many other factors, but these are ones related to the professor-vs-school issue that I think are particularly relevant. No one is going to hire you because you clicked with a professor; the reasing clicking with a professor is important that it suggests you will be productive in that environment. So, I'd say you should scope out other info that may give you an idea of how productive you would be in that environment.

Also, my impression is that hiring committees are likely to give more weight to the person you worked with, and gradually less to the project, department, and school. This is especially true because of letters of rec.

1

I'd say it really depends on the person you want to work with and also the difference between the reputation of both universities.

However, I personally think that going to a person who you "click" with and perhaps can establish a deeper academic relationship with would be more important than just a name of a university or the risk of being in a non-productive environment.

Don't forget that you are building your future collaborators and that can help you alot when you are applying for tenure, etc.

I know of a couple of people who recently did a post doc in highly reputable universities in North america and Europe but are extremely unhappy with their progresses and publication records.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.