I am currently halfway through my first postdoc (a two-year position). I have a Ph.D. in physics, published 3 papers during it, and since this postdoc is in a slightly different field, I still haven't published anything.
I am moderately comfortable in my original field, meaning that if I work for some months on something, it will most likely render some sort of publication (usually in Journal of Physics A/B or Physical Review A). However, my current situation at work is very stressful. I have less freedom than I thought I'd have to work on my own ideas, and the research environment is very dull. I find myself working on problems that might be simply too hard, and perhaps I can't solve them.
I started to wonder what will happen if I turn out not publishing anything during these two years. When I was struggling in my Ph.D., thinking about dropping everything and becoming a monk, I heard from many experienced researchers that it was OK if my Ph.D. was crappy. That the Ph.D. is not the "big filter" in the life of a researcher... And that this is the function of the first postdoc. They told me this is a decisive moment because people will not hire you afterward if you do poorly. In your Ph.D., the fact that you're still more of a student than a researcher usually saves you some explanations, but for the first postdoc, the lack of publications looks really bad when applying to a follow-up position. This is naturally very simplistic (a postdoc might not publish anything simply because his/her research group is non-existent, the boss is crazy, family problems, etc). However, if I were myself on the board analyzing applications, I cannot promise I wouldn't consider the lack of publications as a red flag.
If this filter is true, it makes the situation of someone who just happened to be unlucky in his/her first postdoc quite depressing. Maybe they will have to give up academia and go to industry, even if they don't want to, just because no one accepts them. As I really don't want to move away from academic research, I'm starting to get very anxious about this topic...
Well then... Is my stress justified? Will I be able to find another postdoc after this one even if I don't publish?