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This is my first post in this community, which stems from desperation and what I could only refer to as a state of hopelessness.

I completed my PhD in August and have been looking for postdoctoral positions in my field of research ever since. I have obtained my PhD from a top UK university (not quite Oxbridge, ICL or LSE, rather one tier lower than the said universities) and my supervisor is very well known in the field. Unfortunately, there are currently very few postdocs on the job market in my field and I had to resort to applying for projects that only loosely overlap with my field of research.

It may also be worth noting that in my field, it generally takes time to publish. Most people, including my PhD supervisor, as well as some renowned scholars in the said field, have published their thesis chapters sometimes as long as 2-3 years after graduation, after heavy editing and polishing.

My intent is to secure a decent postdoc at a respectable institution, but that dream seems dead. I have had 4 interviews so far and was offered a position at a random institution, which did not particularly publish well; so I declined that offer with the hope of securing a better one. One of the said interviews was with a very reputable Italian university, which I have yet to hear the outcome of, but I have little hope in securing that postdoc. The competition was fierce, with one candidate already having 4 years of postdoc experience under his belt and numerous publications in top journals, whereas I have none! Additionally, I have been invited for my 5th interview next week at a yet another reputable university, but having looked at the list of the applicants and their CVs for that position, the situation is not much different: for some of the candidates, this would be their 2nd postdocs and most have publications under their belt. Additionally, there is a Columbia University graduate in the list of applicants whose work is more related to the advertised position than mine - these are the people I will be competing against.

To say that I am feeling low is an understatement. If this is the sort of competition that I will be facing at interviews at each relatively respectable institution, I do not stand a chance in securing a decent position. I am incredibly motivated and was looking forward to get on board a project, publish, and also polish my thesis chapters in the process. But at this rate, it doesn't seem that I will be given the opportunity.

I was hoping to get the views and the experiences of more senior members. Is the situation as dire as I think, or am I blowing it out of proportion?

Thank you in advance.

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    I don’t know about your field, but making the interview stage at quite a few universities is encouraging. You are on the market in what probably is the worst (academic) year in recent history. For the next stage (assistant professorships), the field I am most familiar with has less than 1/2 the openings than last year - which was already affected by Covid. I assume it is the same for postdocs.If you’re really committed, maybe you can stay for a little longer at your current university and hope next year is closer to back to normal (additional backlog from people waiting it out notwithstanding) Oct 23, 2020 at 21:09
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    Agreed without reservation. Forget the other candidates. Do the best for yourself and do not prejudge the outcome. You are not competent to judge what the interviewers are really looking for so do not burden yourself with imagined disadvantages. Be enthusiastic for what you do, not for the prestige (as you imagine it) of doing it, do not bullshit, and be honest.
    – Anton
    Oct 23, 2020 at 22:20
  • @TheoreticalMinimum There is nothing wrong with declining a job offer if you receive new information which indicates the job is not desirable. "You rather work at a shitty university than at no university at all." is wrong and harmful advice. Oct 24, 2020 at 1:44
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    I don't see an answerable question here. Oct 24, 2020 at 1:45
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    You are worried about someone who "already has 4 years of experience". In the meantime, that person probably worries that s/he is too old. In some countries, they don't even consider people for faculty jobs after they pass the 5 yr mark.
    – Szabolcs
    Oct 26, 2020 at 19:52

2 Answers 2

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I spent a year unemployed after my PhD, in 2008, when the market was also very bad, and by the end felt very similar to how it sounds you feel now. I didn't have any publications as I came out of my PhD. But after a year living on government support (and I'm aware that I was lucky to be young enough, and unencumbered enough that living in a single bedroom and eating lentils for a year was something I was able to do), and finally a paper under my belt, I did finally get a position, and a very good one at that. I now have a permeant appointment, and things are going well. So don't get too downhearted.

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  • Thank you! Most responses were very helpful, but it's good to be able to relate to someone! I do apologize for the stalking, but it was very easy to find your profile and background, and it is indeed very impressive. This has helped a lot!
    – Carl
    Oct 24, 2020 at 18:17
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People on their second postdoc don't automatically look better than first postdocs just because they have more publications. Second postdocs are seen more as known quantities, but many institutes like gambling on the promise of new PhD grads, so you won't be compared to them in terms of straight publications. Your letter of rec will carry more weight, while their track record of publications will be considered more. The Columbia grad would give me more pause, but there are still many factors to be considered beyond exact research match.

Still, I think overall you have hope as your search has generated a lot of interest from nice places. Talk to your advisor about whether you can get a paycheck somehow at your current institute to tide you over through the job search, and about whether you should be expanding your search to include less prestigious places. If you're coming to the end of the line, your advisor will hopefully tell you that too (though ask around with other senior people for a more well-rounded view).

In some fields, no job by graduation basically weeds you out. Others have qualitatively similar deadlines that fall on different dates (for example a year gap from the PhD with no new position). Some fields are more flexible. Talk to people in your field about whether you're continuing a fruitless search past the point you would be expected to have been placed. From what you wrote you don't sound like you're there yet.

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