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Background

I have done my PhD (Computer Science) at a university (in a third world country) with very limited resources. My research was not funded, my previous lab didn't provide any research support at all (except a desk, internet access and access to some research databases). No training, no equipment, no projects.. they didn't even reimburse students for conferences/travel, etc. As a result, I was very limited in my research (experiments, submission to conferences/journals, etc.). I really had to work a lot and sacrifice a lot so I can defend my thesis in good time and with very good results.

Now I received an offer from a very prestigious university in the world. It's quite the opposite of my previous lab in terms of research support, funded projects, etc. So this is a completely new work environment for me. I know that the key mindset to have is research is research, but sometimes I feel that my pace will be slower than previous postdocs and for that I need to adapt and adjust quickly. What advice can you give to a researcher with my background?

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    I've no advice for you but I do have some encouragement. You were offered this excellent position because the people there thought your work was good (in spite of the limitations where you did it) so they think you will manage the transition well. – Ethan Bolker Apr 19 at 13:54
  • Yeah, thank you so much!! – U. User Apr 19 at 16:52
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Along with research, work hard to make a lot of connections. Certainly connections at the new university, but beyond that through conference meetings and collaborations. Build a circle around yourself. Join the circle of other, more senior people.

Get a sense of all of the research trends around you, even if it shallow outside your specialty.

And, keep connections back "home". In the future you may have an opportunity to do something good for students there as well.

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Understand what you have available to you, new assets, and learn how to take advantage of them. I expect you'll be competing with others who take for granted, and benefit from, kinds of support you would only have dreamed of.

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  • Haha exactly! I am planning to make most of this opportunity! – U. User Apr 19 at 16:40
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Everybody comes from a different background.

Whatever your experience was so far, it got you to where you are now.

Take advantage of the new opportunities you have, but also take advantage of your previous experience as well.

Being able to do so much with such limited resources means you have become good at exploiting those resources, nothing was served to you on a silver plate. You have worked hard to make all of that happen.

Many of the new people you are going to meet do not have that experience and maybe things were easier for them. At the same time you may be surprised to find people who come from a similar background to yours or even more difficult places.

Don't overestimate and don't underestimate. Just make the most out of your personal experience.

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Don't care about anyone judgement or the "pressure" to be on par with the others. You are already on par with them, since you got the offer.

Do your own job, at your own pace, use as much as you can from the "prestigious" university, don't play down your requests, ask top of the notch resources/informatics/library access/attending and organizing conferences and workshops. Especially about the last point, be reckless in your requests.

The following applies especially for "top" universities in the US&UK, less for Germany&France.

The prestigious university hired you because you showed the potential to deliver great results, but the prestigious university wants the results to be published under their affiliation to prove they do the best work possible. For their own gain/prestige/interest.

Remember: you are working for them, it is not like they are being compassionate in providing you an opportunity to collaborate with them.

Then do networking with your peers and the levels above, but ignore their paternalism, ignore their compassion, ignore their suggestions how to work for the first 2 years. I mean, try to get involved in as many social activities with your peers from your department and from other departments, avoid like the plague the PhDs from your department (for reasons that will be clearer to you with time), avoid talking too much of work ... try to network with people that have some interest in life, apart from work.

And keep having fun in your work/research!

Disclaimer and Off-Topic: I did this, I had great fun, I had an easy transition to the company of my dream when the option to continue in the academia was, at the time, unfortunately limited to moving to one of the most dangerous place in the semi-civilized world, Detroit, or to the Central United States (no offense to the people living and working there, but they are wrong on so many levels: wrong history of exploitation, wrong environment, wrong urban development, wrong social welfare ... at least the soil is very fertile, but they are working on screwing that as well).

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  • Could you explain why a PostDoc should avoid working too closely with the PhD students? – kapibarasama Apr 20 at 11:09
  • I was a bit unclear. I refer to PhDs not funded by the PD. Being in a prestigious university, PhDs will have more than enough stress/workload on their own, as a PD you would end up bearing a large chunk of it, while the PhD should and must find its way out on its own or with the direct, official supervisors. For the random PD helping out there is almost certain reward of "nothing", because of rigid and formal supervisions. Ok, it's human to help others, but the same time spent with a single PhD may be used to co-operate with a peer, or helping 10s of other people (outside the Academia). – EarlGrey Apr 20 at 12:52
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Ask early enough. So if you do not understand something it is ok to think about it, do own literature research, but don't take too long. (Like sitting in the lab for 2 month, and when you are asked 'how is it going', 'oh I didn't know how to start the measurement' or whatever). Usually people do not ask enough but try to also avoid things you could find out quickly (like 1+1).

Take notes. Also, take notes. And don't forget to take notes. People are getting annoyed if you ask the same question more than twice. (Best to only ask once, which is possible if you ... take notes ...). About any question, like technical and administrative.

When you are asked to write a paper, for e.g. a conference, check out the other papers by your group, to see how the presentation of content is preferred. Also have your draft ready early. Nothing more annoying if somebody sends a paper round with 'dateline today, please have a look'). If you are asked to correct a document (like a paper draft), use the Word 'track changes' function.

When you get a result in your research, talk to your supervisor where to go from there. If your supervisor suggests a problem, ask which method you should start first (if there are different methods to attack the problem).

If a PhD student (which you will supervise) has a question and you don't know, don't give a wrong answer. Let him/her explain the problem in more detail to you, and either figure out a solution together or refer with the question to somebody else.

Usually prestigious universities focus on results and high output (yours might be different, so check); so focus on results and high output.

Edit: I forgot. How long is the contract? Usually if it is a 2 year contract, look for the next post-doc after year one (so publish often, publish early).

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