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What is the longest gap of unemployment that will likely not affect your chance of getting an academic position (post-doc or faculty)?

For example if you graduate from your PhD in December or January but most post-doctoral/faculty positions in your field don't start until May-Sept, is a partial year's worth of unemployment looked down upon in future job applications? If not, what is the longest gap that won't look so negative while applying to future jobs?

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    This isn't an answer to your question, but you might want to try avoiding the situation entirely by talking to members of the department to get temporary research assistant positions or instructor positions to fill the gap until the positions start up. – Irwin Feb 6 '14 at 21:44
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    It depends on a number of factors. Did you need to relocate? Plus, what were you doing during the down time? Actively looking for employment? Or sitting on the dock of the bay wasting time? I don't think less than a year would be much of a problem, particularly if the school won't hire until then. After all, what else were you supposed to be doing – working in fast food? I don't see how that would look any better on a future CV than a 6- or 9-month gap. If a gap is unavoidable, try doing a few things during that time that could boost the overall quality of a future CV, like volunteer work. – J.R. Feb 6 '14 at 23:00
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    @StasK, that's not an option, the department and my advisor have run out of money, and tuition is 15k a semester. – WetlabStudent Feb 6 '14 at 23:08
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    Hmmm, I just realized, If I were to graduate in January instead of December, I could just put the year of graduation on my CV and then the gap would be relatively unnoticeable – WetlabStudent Feb 7 '14 at 0:40
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    I'm eagerly awaiting the community to respond to this question as I am in a similar situation. Rather than posting a new question which is directly related to this one, I want to expand upon it and ask "Is it possible to continue to work for your mentor upon graduating during the 'gap' until the next round of post-doc job offers roll around?" Do people do this and if so, whats the best way to ask? – LordStryker Feb 7 '14 at 17:48
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I am not sure how you are using the term unemployed. Clearly someone with a paid academic position (e.g., adjunct teaching or lab tech) would not be considered unemployed. I am not sure if you consider an unpaid lab tech or a paid burger flipper as being employed. To me the real issue is being out of the field.

If you cannot get a relevant paid position and but can afford to be without income for a few months, then a year gap, and probably longer, isn't problematic. In fact many labs will hire unpaid researchers. In this case you could continue to conduct new research, publish, apply for grants, and gain new contacts. You could likely stay in an unpaid position as long as you could afford it without any affects on future job prospects. If you cannot get an unpaid research position then it really depends on how long you can milk publications from your past research and produce new research without any affiliation to a research group.

If you cannot get a relevant paid position and cannot afford to be without income for a few months you can sometimes find paid work in a related field. Working as a paid lab tech (e.g., washing test tubes) or adjunct teaching. These types of jobs won't help you publish more or get grants and in fact take time away from publishing, research, and getting grants. That said they can provide a limited set of new skills and cotnacts so are probably sustainable for a year or so.

In the absence of getting even a peripherally related job taking an unrelated job (e.g., burger flipper) even for a short period (i.e., months) gap can be problematic. Not only will it slow down publishing, research, and grants it may make you less flexible about being able to take up a new related position (e.g., how much notice would you have to give). You are also not building new skills or contacts.

A lot of the impact will depend on how important publication speed is in your field. If a few month delay in publishing will result in you being scooped, any gap is probably bad. Similarly the ability to do research without any resources will help you weather a gap. Similarly, if your field has new instigator grants with a clock that starts ticking upon graduation then gaps are bad.

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Form a corporation. That can keep you employed until you get the position you want. Who knows, you might even figure out a way to make money in the process!

For example, I am a software engineer. I have had a C-Corporation for the last 20 years. Whenever I'm between contracts / jobs, I work on something I've wanted to pursue personally. It could be writing an iPhone app, or integrating a PC into my home theater system. If it takes me long enough to find another gig, I'll list my experience doing whatever it was I accomplished as an entry in my resume. It keeps me from having unusually long gaps, and occasionally, I'll even generate revenue doing it.

For another example, a friend of mine is a research chemist. Together, we designed a gas chromatograph that was accurate enough to be useful, yet inexpensive enough to be available to even high schools. This was a number of years ago and we were using a Commodore-64 to control the temperature of the oven containing the stationary phase coil, as well as collecting the detector data in real time. As we never brought this product to market, I would classify it as either an R&D effort, or a proof of concept project. Either way, it was useful from a resume perspective.

I actually thought this was a helpful and viable idea and I would not have mentioned it if I didn't.

Regardless, a little evaluation of a potential business opportunity probably wouldn't hurt most career academics.

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    (no vote) Can you clarify/expand on this? Are you suggested becoming self-employed by creating some kind of owner-operator incorporated entity? Can you detail how will this help? (Eg will it allow him to attract people who might ask him to do short term research? Improve his connections? Just look better than a blank spot on resume?) – Lyndon White Aug 10 '14 at 1:04

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