Started PhD in 2014.

Mistakes that I have committed:

  1. I did my PhD in a topic that was not the area of expertise of my PhD supervisor.

  2. I was doing computational work, while the past graduates on the topic were all experimentalists. So, I did not know the career prospects.

  3. I did not take relevant courses. My committee did not tell me to take them. I am technically unsound now.

  4. I published very late, in 2017 and that too a bad paper (just 3 citation till date) in a decent journal.

  5. Finally graduated in 2019. Tried everything to get a postdoc or industry positions. Did not get anything. I have just 4 papers from my PhD.

  6. Currently unemployed. Looking for positions since. I am an Indian national. Doing part-time job in call center to make ends meet.

  7. My PhD advisor has offered me 2 years postdoc position. Topic will be little bit different and more collaborative with other research groups. Should I accept? I don't know my career prospects after that? Can I still get into academia or research industry after that?

I apply to both industry and academia. No responses. I want to be in a research field either in industry or academia.

Is every career redeemable?

  • 52
    Your emotional response may be at odds with the reality of the situation. Times are hard in general for academics right now and don't reflect your skills and knowledge. Perhaps you should talk to a personal counsellor to get over your sense of (probably) burnout. And take that post-doc. Call center work isn't going to help a bright person cope with life.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 11:51
  • 26
    Agree with @Buffy . That postdoc is much better than a call center job. You might want to use some of the time in your postdoc to audit courses in fields in which you think you are weak.
    – NNN
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 13:09
  • 10
    And don't judge yourself too harshly.
    – NNN
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 13:30
  • 4
    What does "Is every career redeemable mean?" Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 21:50
  • 4
    You could go from working in a call center to working in a university? I have no idea what the issue is. Take the job immediately.
    – Issel
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 23:12

5 Answers 5


You did a PhD in 5 years, published 4 papers and got an offer for a 2-year postdoc position in times where research funding decreases. Keep going, looks fine.

Take some courses or workshops on topics where you think you aren't skilled enough, but given that you could publish, I suspect that you underestimate yourself here.

"Can I still get into academia or research industry after that?"

With a postdoc position, you are in academia.

  • 30
    "With a postdoc position, you are in academia." Yeah, with an offer of a postdoc position, he's already doing better than 90% of the PhD graduates at my university.
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 9:43

To answer the explicit question, no, not every career can be salvaged. But yours doesn't seem to fall into that category.

You are experiencing a natural emotional letdown, but it is based, I suspect, much more on the state of the academic economy than on any failings on your part. But, since such feelings can be debilitating, it would be good to deal with them explicitly, say by visiting a personal counselor. Most universities have an office open to students for such things, and they might be available to recent graduates and to employees.

I suggest that you take the postdoc that is being offered and use the time to advance your prospects. This involves productive research, of course, but it also involves building a circle of potential collaborators and advocates that can aid in your career moves. Your advisor probably already has such a circle and you can, perhaps, get entry to it. But, through conferences and other meetings you can also make productive contacts.

I also suggest that you ignore your age as a factor and take heart from the fact that your advisor believes in you.

I, too, graduated into a terrible academic marketplace and had to do some rather drastic things to stay in academia, though I was highly thought of by my peers and the faculty. This included both changing fields (math to CS) and a multi-year job search. But, forty some years later, my goals were largely met.

  • 5
    Interpreted a certain way, it sounds like your job search lasted 40 years. heh
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 20:13
  • 3
    @DKNguyen, not quite that bad, but I had some bad experiences.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 20:29

I graduated in the recession of 2008 with a bachelors. I couldn't find a job for 3 years. Of course, I was younger not having spent as much time in school because no post-grad degree. The job I did end up getting was in my field, but not my specialty by a long shot and did not use my knowledge base or skills at all.

I am on my second job after graduation now and although it is relevant, I never know if that experience will ever help me easily get a new job due to how specific it is. Graduating in recessions hits your sense of security hard like that. When your experience has told you that finding a job takes 3 years, that's the benchmark you use when thinking about future job searches, and it would take a lot of much shorter, easier job searches to unlearn that, but I digress.

Your mindset is definitely skewing things. I could be misreading between the lines, but were all those industry positions you applied research positions? If so, why are you neglecting the enormous, well-traveled alternative of non-research industry positions?

It is absolutely baffling to me why you would ever consider not taking the post-doc when nothing else is on the table, especially with your concerns of future career prospects. Who cares if the topic is a little bit different? There are people working in entirely different departments in industry. It is as if you think your call-center job is even remotely as relevant as the postdoc position. The post-doc topic could be in English literature and still help you more than that call-center job would.

One thing I've observed: People who aren't worried about finding new jobs and seemingly seemingly quit jobs on a whim are like that because they always find new jobs easily, and they seem to be able to do that because they know enough of the right people to help them. On that basis alone, any post-doc topic would help you more than that call-center job. I still lack such a network due to my skills and particular job. But with the post-doc you have an clear-cut way to get your foot in the door. Not only that you say this post-doc position has more collaboration with other research groups which is even better for networking. If this hasn't occurred to you, your emotions are getting the better of you. I wish I had such clear cut networking opportunity where I get paid fall into my lap.

  • 4
    The post-doc topic could be in English literature ... --- This also baffled me. After earning my Masters degree, along with a couple of additional years towards Ph.D. (but at that time not completed and left school), some of the jobs I worked were: part-time evening data entry (this was late 1980s), substitute school teacher, adjunct at a community college, and fast food restaurant ("flipping hamburgers"). I would rank ALL of these higher than a call-center job, even the restaurant work (of which I've actually done a lot, and not just fast food) since it's more applicable as these things go. Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 20:07

The academic path is harder than many people think. You're doing fine. Some people do better and some don't, but it's not a personal failing, there's a large degree of luck involved too.

Do what makes sense to you. If you feel you are missing skills, while being a post-doc take a few extra classes to fill the gaps. If you don't have enough publications, work to release more papers. If you feel you don't have enough citations, change the topic to a hot-ticket item.

The world does not have a "correct path" or a "path so bad it can't be redeemed" In fact, most of the world isn't keeping score on you at all; they too are too busy keeping score on themselves (also regretting their failures, also ignoring their successes).

In short, set a goal and achieve it, then repeat. Don't look at all the goals you considered but didn't set for yourself, as you'll always fall short of that benchmark (as considered goals are not worked towards, only set ones are).

  • And if you ever drop out of academia (typically it takes 2 post-doc positions before you get offered an assistant professorship, so you are on the academic path), take a job fitting your educational level. Just because you don't have training in something you deem a practical skill, that doesn't mean you have failed. You're smart enough to get where you are, so take a job that needs smart people and is willing to pay them. There are plenty of people not working in their field; one of my best software developers was a physicist.
    – Edwin Buck
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 4:17

First some good news, with many things shut down due to the coronavirus, there is no need to feel ashamed or like a failure to the people back in India, nothing to brag about, but no shame either. Explain to them that things are very bad here in the job market. Tell them (probably lie) that all your co-workers in the call center have college degrees.

Mention that even after the vaccine gets dispensed to enough people, in May-June 2021, there will be 2 years worth of graduates for 1 year's worth of jobs.

Also, don't tell your folks in India about those mistakes you mentioned. All that should lower the expectations that your folks have for you. Now, for your career.

First of all, you ARE employed at the call center, so you said. Second, you have gone so far down the acedemic rabbit hole that you might as well accept the postdoc position that was offered to you. Third, as far as industry, are you talented in a mechanical sort of way? Can you twirl a wrench and twist a screwdriver in a way that gives beneficial results?

Do you understand the mechanical workings of a car and appliances? Do you dream up mechanical devices to accomplish some sort of task? If the answer is yes to these questions, you have a good shot at industry.

If the answer is no to those questions, either you need to stick to academia (those who can't do - teach) or you could go in a different direction.

You mentioned how you pursued computations rather than experiments, perhaps you could narrow your focus to doing stress analysis equations or change to calculating risk and cost factors for an insurance company, or computationally heavy accounting work.

I hope this gives you some direction.

  • 5
    China Virus -> COVID 19 or novel coronavirus?
    – user130361
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 22:48
  • 4
    Telling lies to everyone? -1 for that. I'd give a few more -1's for "china virus" and "trump vaccine" btw
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 14, 2020 at 23:10
  • How is understanding mechanical workings necessarily relevant to the OP's situation? They don't seem to have specified what field they are in.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 2:10
  • 1
    @GoodDeeds They did. At the very end, but it seems they edited it out.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 3:23
  • 4
    Many aspects of this post (like the advice to lie) are very troubling. Further, some of the assertions here (i.e., that industry necessarily involves twirling a wrench and that academia only attracts "those who can't") are unsupported and seem improbable. I urge OP (or those who agree with him) to edit the post and better justify these assertions. For now, I am adding the "needs citation" post notice.
    – cag51
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 20:21

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