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I've noticed that there are a lot of postdocs postings that offer fixed-term contracts for 12 months and sometimes less (I did find 8 months). I'm looking for a postdoc position as my first post-PhD job and I don't know if I should also consider those. For the short-term contract, what's the usual story? do they really expect you to publish in just 8 months?

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    Based on the hiring timelines in most countries, you would already need to start your search for the next stop as soon as you started the job. I would consider such a job an emergency solution. Nov 30 '20 at 20:47
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    Technically speaking, the post-docs at my institution are 'one-year, renewable', which serves to emphasize that it is a temporary position. Renewal to 3 years is automatic, HR starts questioning me after that, and HR will not renew past 6 years.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 30 '20 at 20:49
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    Postdocs in my department are three years, but the official offer says something like "one year, renewable for two more years subject to satisfactory teaching." I don't think we've ever not renewed a postdoc appointment, but the official language gives us some leverage in case a postdoc does a terrible job of teaching and makes no effort to improve. Nov 30 '20 at 20:52
  • In the UK they mention "The job is fixed term until DD/MM with a possibility of an extension." But the thing is, this means you will get assessed and evaluated after 8-12 months? If the policy is 'no publication then no renewal' this this a bad idea, no?
    – U. User
    Nov 30 '20 at 21:02
  • @AndreasBlass, can you give an example of what helps you evaluate the performance of a postdoc in the first year? What's the minimum requirement that will make consider extending a contract?
    – U. User
    Nov 30 '20 at 21:04
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Typically very short (<1yr) positions are offered because the PI only has money to pay for a few months' postdoc time. This can arise for a variety of reasons, but the most common is probably that they obtained a grant to pay for (say) a 3-year postdoc, and then hired someone who found a new job after two-and-a-bit years. This is an awkward situation: often funding agencies place strict time limits for money to be spent, so one may be faced with the challenge of getting rid of a substantial pile of cash quickly, and hiring someone is the only realistic way to do this.

Related, but distinct: sometimes PIs will choose to spend the dregs of a grant on employing a graduating PhD student for a few months after they complete their thesis. The length of position offered is usually directly governed by the amount of money left in the bank. In such cases it may be necessary to 'advertise' the job to satisfy employment regulations and/or policies.

Unless you are already involved in a project, it is difficult to achieve much in a postdoc that lasts less than a year. Inevitably you lose time at the start getting settled in (especially if you have to move to a new city), and you will be busy applying for new jobs and attending interviews. PIs' expectations no doubt differ, but I think it is unreasonable to expect much to come out of such a short position.

Often PIs in this situation will be applying for follow-on funding, so there is a chance that the position will ultimately be extended to a decent length. However, you should not count on this happening.

If you see an advert of this sort, I think it is reasonable to contact the PI and ask for an explanation of the circumstances, and how they envisage things working. Personally, I would only apply for such positions if the alternative were unemployment.

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  • That's what I expected really:Some money left that can be only justified through hiring someone for a few months.But, I think you get the 'feeling' from reading the job description and the responsibilities about the current status. I mean, a postdoc in the situation you mentioned earlier will say something like "you will work on some problem". On the contrary here, I found one where they mention that the contract will end in 31 August 2021 and interviews are expected in December. So, we're taking 8 months here,but the profile they're looking for is really detailed with long term objectives!!
    – U. User
    Nov 30 '20 at 22:47
  • Right now, I am not considering such postdocs, it's just that I have seen quite many and I figured perhaps I am missing something. Also, I did try once talking to a PI about the current situation (in order to probe terrain a little bit), but he didn't respond. If you think about it, it's quite tricky for the PI to tell you "I don't have any grants for next year" in this situation as he won't find anyone interested (mostly). On the other hand, he might give you promises about next year, but like you mentioned: nothing is guaranteed.
    – U. User
    Nov 30 '20 at 22:54
  • A detailed advert might be a sign they've just recycled the original one, or that they're trying to make sure that only one person is qualified to take the job.
    – avid
    Nov 30 '20 at 23:13

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