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Would you do a postdoc at a place where the faculty mentor's research is only very tangentially related to your own research interests? I'm in pure math. I'm in the situation where I have to decide whether to accept or to try again. I was discussing with someone and he said, "Who cares if your faculty mentor doesn't work in your area? Now there's Zoom, there's e-mail. I collaborate with people who I haven't seen in person in years."

But the postdocs I know are working with mentors more closely, writing papers with them, etc. In grad school I felt pretty isolated and it was much harder than it could have been, because I had all these questions that my advisor couldn't answer, and e-mail responses I got from other professors weren't very helpful. If I do a postdoc, I want it to be productive. I think that in order for me to be productive, I need to be able to bounce my ideas off more knowledgeable mathematicians in person. Right now my approach is, when I read a paper I think of some natural questions, but I'm not discussing them with anyone.

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  • How long of a journey would it be to someone closer to your area? A short subway ride or a plane ride over water? Jul 2 at 17:26
  • @TerryLoring the postdoc would be in a different country, in particular a country with very stringent COVID travel restrictions. Meaning if I do a postdoc, my chances of being able to have productive conversation in person is close to 0.
    – Mehta
    Jul 2 at 17:27
  • Can you clarify "tangentially related" for us? Are there people close enough that you would be interested in attending their seminars? Jul 2 at 17:28
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    I think a key question that needs answering is, why is this person offering to be your postdoc mentor? Usually that would mean that they are expecting that you’ll at least try to work on things they are interested in. Have you discussed with them what the expectations on both sides would be?
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 3 at 2:46
  • I'm in the situation where I have to decide whether to accept or to try again. - What does this mean? What are your other options? If you don't have better options, why wouldn't you accept?
    – Kimball
    Jul 3 at 16:16
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There are many factors leading to productivity other than having geographically close researchers in your area. One is having enough money to live comfortably. If you love opera, having an opera house nearby can clear your mind and help you think. And keep you sane.

You need to think of what your other options are. If it is staying where you are, isolated in research and with little money, perhaps take the postdoc offered. If the postdoc does not pay relocation expenses and the pay is bad, then perhaps not.

A good test is if you think there would be an audience if you gave a talk on your latest research. That is one form of feedback that really helps in writing papers that referees enjoy reading. It is not the same as having someone local to bounce ideas off of, but it is still helpful.

I find that the best collaborator for me is often not in the same time zone, and I just have to deal with that. I have written a few papers entirely over email. Now that we have been forced to learn zoom and can share a whiteboard, it is a whole lot better.

Best of luck sorting this.

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