I am considering the pros and cons of two types of postdoc positions I have come cross:

  1. The most common is 1-3 years of work on an established project for which a supervisor PI typically won a grant.
  2. Some departments ask for a 'research plan' and the postdoc who wins the position works alone or with a local supervisor on the project he/she proposed.

The pros of 1 are clear:

  • In my field, these jobs are usually offered in stronger departments (though not always).
  • Likely more publishing output with a team and/or invested supervisor.
  • Contacts.

I was wondering about the pros of 2 and how it is perceived because the independent work is attractive to me.

  • Do you have your own research plan that you are more interested in working on than joining what existing groups are doing? And will the department provide sufficient funding for your project?
    – Kimball
    May 1, 2021 at 20:13
  • Kimball that's a fair question - I haven't seen projects like that with funding that exceeds the salary itself, but I have some data that I am allowed to use and I think publications are feasible. Still, it will be a test. I think if I can do it then professorship won't be harder (I have plenty of teaching experience) and if not, maybe it's not for me. Yet I don't know if this approach will be appreciated. May 1, 2021 at 20:31
  • Could you pull off both? Perhaps work on an established project while modifying or aligning your research plan to solicit additional funding?
    – kwame
    Jul 30, 2021 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


Your second option many not even have a "supervisor" as such. It might just be an opportunity for an aspiring academic to work with a small research group on questions of mutual interest. This might be especially true in mathematics, for example. It is a way to get some experience, possibly even including teaching a bit.

I've been in a department where a post doc was hired specifically to work with a junior faculty member to boost their mutual CVs and experience.

Another situation involved a person who had an interesting (to some of the other faculty) research program so they hired him to work with the others, bringing new ideas into a research group. It was mutually beneficial as was my other example. In this case the long term intention was to offer the postdoc a permanent position later if possible.

There are hardly any disadvantages as long as the postdoc works well with others as a colleague and both gives and accepts help.


There are a few pros of the option 2, which could include:

  • This could be viewed as a "transition" position that is more difficult, given that you'll be PI on your own project vs. working under someone else. When applying for faculty or other independent investigator positions, you may be able to describe how you've already had "independent" research experience with this position.
  • You would have the opportunity for more solo-authored papers, or even first-authored papers, given that since you proposed the project you would get the first pass at writing up the data.
  • You could select your own collaborators vs. with option 1 you might not have a choice of collaborators.
  • Lastly, a major pro is that you would be able to select the topics that are important to you/relevant to your line of research. This could prevent drift in your efforts compared to option 1, which may require you to work on projects not relevant to your line of research.

I think it depends entirely on the funding source. Some projects, based on external funding, may have a postdoc written into them from the beginning and will advertise for them like a regular job. In other cases a department may have several annual, full-time postdoc positions that are funded by endowments that are open for applications during a window during the year and last for a fixed time like a junior faculty position. You might search your dream departments and postdoc and see what comes back. They may also call these a “fellowship” rather than a postdoc, so you should search for both. For example, this one https://oden.utexas.edu/research/programs-and-awards/odonnell-jr-postdoc-fellowship/, is endowed and pretty prestigious if you study applied mathematics.

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