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I obtained my PhD from a very low ranked university in Africa. Research was really hard due to a lack of many resources. But by working hard I managed to land a postdoc at a top world research intensive university. It wasn't easy to get the job as I had good papers but published in "average" journals. My PI even told me that I need to publish in top quality journals because that was the main issue in my profile and other candidate.

6 months later, my previous PHD supervisor wants me to do research with him. There were a couple of research papers that I was working on with a PhD student in my previous lab, my ex-supervisor also had an idea for another paper. I don't how to approach this situation because I have the following issues:

  1. I need to publish in top quality journals and I don't think I would be able to do so if I helped my previous team. To be honest, the "average" journals I published in were the best ones my previous teams published in.
  2. I also need to publish!
  3. I don't know how my PI will take this. Perhaps I need to use my old affiliation!
  4. This will probably steal a few weekends from me. I am not planning to dedicate a lot of time to my previous team.

Sometimes it looks that doing research with my old team has more harm than good for my profile. Sometimes, I say "why? it's just research". Should I do research with my previous team? What advice would you give me?

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Well, definitely talk to your PI rather than speculate about what they might or might not think! It is not uncommon for people who have left one research position to still collaborate on finishing work they started in their previous positions (I have published a number of papers with my former postdoc PI despite no longer working in academia, or even in a remotely related industry field!)

However, you probably should be choosing based on if you are, or are not, interested in the research your former group is doing. Finishing off work started during your PhD is one thing, and is good for maintaining relations with your old supervisor. Starting something completely new with them depends on if you have interest in the collaboration and the time to dedicate to it.

Ultimately if you have a bunch of papers in whatever your field deems as top quality journals, and also some in lesser quality journals, nobody is going to dock points for the latter. Nobody's publication record is 100% in Nature or Science, variation in where you publish is normal!

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    Hey @jovisg, thank you for your email. I 100% agree you about judging work by the quality of the journals. But sadly, having only "average quality journals" did hurt me in some interviews. I noticed that some PIs the first thing they do is look at the quality of your journals. But you're right, I need to talk to my PI about this first.
    – userte
    Dec 10 '21 at 12:04
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I agree with @josivg that there is a big difference between finishing papers (depending how far along the research/writing is) and starting new ones. If the part-written papers are mostly done, then I'd consider finishing them, especially if other PhD students are relying on you.

I think it's fine to say no to new research though. I assume you're doing a postdoc now? Or at least have some fixed term position? In which case, I think it's fine to be selfish in your writing & collaboration strategy. Once you have a permanent position you can think about 'giving back' to your old collaborators. By then you will have experience to lead high-quality work, and may be able to include your old collaborators in top quality publications, which will help them much more than another 'average' publication (especially if that helps a future PhD student the kind of publication profile that international universities are looking for).

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    Glad that I read this as I was just about to write the same thing. The postdoc period is probably not the best time to do this unless it clearly helps you toward a permanent position. By tending to your own career now you will have a better opportunity to help others later.
    – Buffy
    Dec 10 '21 at 14:48

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