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I am finishing my masters, and my advisor wants me to stay to do my PhD. My advisor is also the department head. We have a very good relationship, he’s invited me over to his house for dinner and even thanksgiving.

Here’s the dilemma: The city I am in feels like home, my long time girlfriend has a career in CS in the private sector in our city that pays close to what my advisor is paid,and this is her first year working. I would like to stay for my PhD, but I also know that I want to stay in academia, and really love the department I am in. I actually have had the pleasure of teaching 4 sections of elementary statistics during my masters, and absolutely love teaching. I have received a lot of praises from my students, and my advisor says that I check all the boxes to continue on for my PhD. So my question is to everyone is:

Should I be blunt with my advisor and tell him my wishes that I have concerning staying upon finishing my PhD, and also how does this affect me doing a post-doc? Is it possible to skip the post-doc and continue on as a Professor but put on some type of probationary period before tenure track?

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    What part of the world are you in? How prestigious is your school?
    – cag51
    Dec 15, 2021 at 2:11
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    I don't really understand what the problem is. You and your advisor both want you to stay and do a PhD. What do you mean by "tenure position" in the question title? What does a future faculty position have to do with your decision to do the PhD? Dec 15, 2021 at 7:56
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    If it was that easy to get a tenure track position I think everyone would be doing it. You can't just ask; you will have to apply, interview etc. There are no guarantees in academia. Dec 15, 2021 at 10:30
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    I don't understand what your question is. You were offered a PhD in city X, and then you explain how much you like living in city X. Where is the problem? And what does this have to do with tenure?
    – Vincent
    Dec 16, 2021 at 3:39
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    I think the problem raised by the OP is "I'm afraid if I do my PhD here, that means I won't be able to stay here after the PhD, because the custom is that researchers move to a different university after their PhD". But I'm just guessing. It's not actually stated in the question and the question currently reads like there is no problem at all and everything is perfect.
    – Stef
    Dec 16, 2021 at 11:24

7 Answers 7

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The vast majority of people after they finish a PhD do go somewhere else for postdocs or tenure track positions (assuming one even gets one). Worrying about this now doesn't really make sense. If you are comfortable there and work well together, then you should strongly consider finishing your PhD there, and worry about anything else when it is much closer to happening.

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    This a good direct answer. Just to add: I think a PhD is a long process, and it's quite rare to have an opportunity to spend five years in a department (any job, really) with both people and work you enjoy. Making a decision about the next 3-5 years of your life because of what might happen 3-5 years from now is good way to have a rough 3-5 years of your life.
    – Gauss
    Dec 15, 2021 at 13:59
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    "Worrying about this now doesn't really make sense." But forming a realistic plan in advance does make sense. Dec 15, 2021 at 16:45
  • You really cannot predict what your situation will be in 3-5 years, other than it is likely you will have a Ph.D - if you go that route. Not to be too pessimistic, but you may not even be involved with the same person by then.
    – plasmo
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:07
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    I mean, worrying about this now makes some amount of sense, if OP is not interested in doing a PhD if they can't stay in academia afterwards. The reality is that trying to become a prof without moving at all is really playing an already challenging game on nightmare difficulty. There is a (very) high chance of things not working out that way.
    – xLeitix
    Dec 16, 2021 at 14:00
  • "The vast majority of people after they finish a PhD do go somewhere else for postdocs or tenure track positions" that really depends on which country you are in, no? AFAIK, at least in some departments in universities in Japan, PhD students are expected to stay and continue as assistant professors, at least for a while.
    – xuq01
    Dec 16, 2021 at 16:00
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In software engineering there is the notion of premature optimization, which is when a programmer spends much time and effort on code and design decisions that are supposed to lead to hypothetical performance improvements to the software at some unspecified time in the future (which often never materializes), when it’s more productive to focus on more immediate concerns.

I feel like your thinking about this situation is the real-life analogue of this pattern — a type of overthinking, or of putting the cart before the horse.

You do have a reasonable concern, in the sense that people in academia generally do not end up in the department where they did their PhD. In the US it’s vanishingly rare to see someone pull that off; in some other countries it’s a bit more common.

On the other hand, you need to take into account that in fact the likelihood that you’ll end up with a tenure track position in this university that you like, or even in the same city, is already very small whether you stay there for your PhD or not. Even the chances that you’ll end up in academia are not as high as you think they are — a large fraction of people starting a PhD say that they want to stay in academia, and most of them don’t — some change their minds, and some are unable to find a position that’s as attractive as they were imagining.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you’re wrong to take the future into account in your decision-making. Just be aware of the pitfalls of premature optimization. People are generally pretty bad at predicting what choices they will be confronted with a few years into the future, and what preferences their future selves will even have.

And yes, it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss these issues with your advisor, who is best positioned to give you accurate, locale-specific and discipline-specific information about the career implications of any choice you make. Good luck!

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Trailing spouse is a rather common problem in academia: while one person engages in building their academic career, having to move between the universities and countries every few years, their spouse is obliged to follow, looking for local short-term jobs or being a house-spouse. The alternative is living separately for many years, before securing a permanent position.

I concur with @JoshuaZ that doing one's PhD, postdoc, and securing a permanent position in the same university is extremely rare and is usually viewed with suspicion by peers. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with continuing for PhD with the same supervisor that you had during your masters, and many things may change/clarify in your life before you graduate.

Finally, an alternative is leaving the academia and looking for a job elsewhere - there are plenty of opportunities out there, and people with recent masters or PhD degree (without postdoc luggage) have good chances to build a career. Don't expect it to be easier than getting a tenury though.

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In general, starting a PhD is not the time to carve your own career path in the way you describe.

#1 the probability of your opportunity to stay is low. there are only so many positions. those positions are competitively awarded. Right here, your plan starts to wobble.

The real problem is #2 No No and Nope. Once you get a PhD, its time to go. If you stay in your home institution, the system has broken. Once you finish, it is time to bring your knowledge to the world and and the world to you.

What you describe is possible, but be weary of anyone that chooses to go along with it. Additionally (honestly), it sounds like a bad plan with low chance of success.

Definitely have this talk with your mentor, she/he sounds nice and willing to work with you on a plan that is more likely to succeed. My approach would be a focus on funding, rather than appointments. You demonstrate an ability to attract funding, and your options get much better much quicker. This is a conversation your mentor would likely be happy to have.

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If you would like to pursue the PhD, and it sounds like you are in a very good position to do so, then go for it. If after 4-6 years you obtain your degree and still don't want to move, then you'll probably have to look for a job outside academia. But that's a long time away and there are no guarantees, so you have to be prepared for the fact that you'll have to make that decision when you come out the other side. The chances that you have a strong postdoc and then get hired all at the same institution are vanishingly small, practically unheard of.

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  • Staying in the same institution is more or less likely depending on the field one is working into. However, if OP identifies as a woman, she has a lot of chances of obtaining a future grant just playing good the statistical cards (if 25% of PhDs are women and the positive discrimination action enforces a 50% of women winning grants and co ... suddenly a woman has a lot more chances to get a grant, almost as many chances as a man in the past 60 years :D )
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 15, 2021 at 19:31
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Be blunt with yourself: apply for the PhD, if you get it, in 3-6 years from now you will have to figure out your options. If you want to have an insight, check how many of the current people in the department (assistant professor, postdocs) are from the city you are now and transitioned from PhD to PostDoc in the same department or university. If more than 2 (two), then you have some chances in pursuing your plan (but do not forget surviorship bias, and the fact that for every 5-10 PhDs there is 0.5-1 position as assistant professor ... worldwide).

However, if your main concern is staying in the city where your partner is having her/his career, the academic career is probably one of the worst possible choice. The fact that you have a great relation with people at the department does not mean that they are the only great people in the city. Plus, if you have a good relationship, you will be able to keep the connection if you start woking in an area closely related to this department in your city (you will be able to offer small contracts, thesis, internships from the industry side...).

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This career path applies to the top 2 percent of the people in academia. These are the people who, even as PhD students, are stronger researchers than the average assistant professor. I know of a few people like that in my field. Even those people did one postdoc stint somewhere else before returning as professors to their alma mater.

But, the situation is different if you move from US to Europe. For instance, in my eastern EU country, it's unusual for a university to hire professors who didn't graduate there. Most of them have been with their university since undergraduate.

To answer your question, I think you should be very clear to yourself and your adviser about what you want. I do not agree with the advise that you should wait for a few years before you formulate a plan. You should have a plan, and it should be updated at least once a year. The plan should also have a B option: what will you do if you can't take you favorite A option. Without the B option, you set yourself up for a ton of stress, that will reflect negatively on your family relationship.

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