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I am currently looking for a postdoctoral position.

The PhD I did was quite multidisciplinary, and among the fields within there is a field "A" that I would like to investigate further during my postdoc in order to get specialized into it.

However, while I found postdoc opportunities in other fields, it is relatively hard for me to find positions in this field (I think one of the reasons is that my main papers related to this topic are not yet published). A good news is that I have an opportunity in doing a postdoc in this field with someone I collaborated a lot during my PhD and with whom I enjoyed working (it is of course not my advisor, but some permanent researcher from a laboratory of another country).

My issue is that I have heard that it is not good to do a postdoc with someone you already worked with during your PhD. For an academic carreer, people want you to show "independency", and it is from what I understood translated in "you need to work with people you did not work with during your PhD". I wanted to know if it is true (to be honest you could lack total independency working with a completely new person this is why I don't understand this claim). During my PhD I worked on four papers and my two main ones are done in collaboration with this person. Also, what I would do in this postdoc couldn't be considered as being the same job as what I did during my PhD: it could really be seen as a strong specialization in a subfield.

My question:

Is it really a bad idea to do a postdoc with someone you already collaborated during your PhD? In the worst case, what if I do a first postdoc with this person and another one with another person? How will this be viewed for my future academic career? The work done in this postdoc will allow me to be specialized in a subfield that was among the fields I work on during my multidisciplinary PhD. In case it wasnt clear: my goal is to find a permanent academic position later on (ideally in France or in neighboring countries).

Additional info: What I know for sure is that doing a postdoc in the same group you did your PhD can be seen as a red flag by recruiters. I know this from various permanent researchers. The context of my question is to ask if it is the same for a collaborator you worked with. Or if it wouldnt be seen as "too close" (and hence, fine).

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    Other things being equal it is hard to see how this can hurt you. Don't believe in all academic urban legends and myths.
    – Buffy
    Dec 20, 2021 at 23:56
  • 1
    @Buffy thanks for the comment. So you dont see it is an issue at all if I understood you correctly. The thing is that academia is so competitive that the selection can be done on details. It is hard to separate rumors from unofficials details.
    – user47115
    Dec 20, 2021 at 23:58
  • The "other things being equal" is important in a competitive environment. At that level a coin flip is all it requires. Better to have an opportunity to do good work, I think.
    – Buffy
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:03
  • @Buffy i am not sure to have understood your last comment. Do you mean that it might be good to work with someone completely new in case my profile is not as good as another one, it could give a bit of boost to my curriculum?
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:07

6 Answers 6

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I'm a big believer in building a wide circle of people that you can collaborate with. A postdoc at a new place can do that, but it isn't the only avenue.

As you describe the opportunity it sounds to me to be entirely positive. You are balancing the opportunity to do something interesting against a "feeling" that other people "might" think it is better to do otherwise.

But a postdoc in a new place is a bit of a crap shoot also. You don't really know enough about how the collaboration will go when you start or whether you will be taken away from core interests.

If you have a drive to succeed then you can make it work. Don't choose a direction based on fear.

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  • Thanks for the answer. About your first paragraph, actually the only person I would already know would be the advisor. I would have opportunities to meet all the students (and other permanent researchers) there so in terms of network it might not be too different than working with someone "completely new"
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:14
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    Look to the outside, no matter where you are. Thee are people everywhere. Conferences are good places to establish contact. Follow up with people who write to you about your work. Explore the collaborative circles of your advisor and others to see if you fit. Make it a long term goal.
    – Buffy
    Dec 21, 2021 at 0:17
  • Thanks. One last question. Just to be sure: you wouldnt think the same if it was a postdoc in the same group of the phd advisor (in case common interests would be there). Said differently the closeness of the relationship with a collaborator is not too strong (compared to a PhD advisor for which it is much more clear that doing a long post doc with can be seen as a red flag by future recruiters)
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 1:23
  • +1: The last sentence
    – Our
    Dec 21, 2021 at 23:20
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Is it really a bad idea to do a postdoc with someone you already collaborated during your PhD? In the worst case, what if I do a first postdoc with this person and another one with another person? How will this be viewed for my future academic career?

Not at all in my experience. Why would it be?

  • You still are broadening the academic environment in which you worked by going to his/her new institute.

  • It is natural to work with someone who you have strong common interests.

  • You gain something, by being secure in your postdoc choice. While loose a bit indeed, by having one less potential reference for your job application. But this is a small loss if at all.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Just to be sure: you wouldnt think the same if it was a postdoc in the same group of the phd advisor (in case common interests would be there). Said differently the closeness of the relationship with a collaborator is not too strong (compared to a PhD advisor for which it is much more clear that doing a long post doc with can be seen as a red flag by future recruiters)
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 1:22
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    @StarBucK, yes, doing postdoc with the phd supervisor is less optimal. But also not that bad.
    – Dilworth
    Dec 21, 2021 at 17:11
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Usually a Post-doc position is limited in time. You can use your first offer to get all your papers and results published and talk about them on conferences. After two years you might find a position in your actual field.

If you are in good terms with your boss that offered you a position, you might get the chance to leave the position early, once you find a better suiting position. Not sure whether this is a good move with regard to a next deployment, but it might help you with your fear of missing out some other opportunity.

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I would encourage a postdoc with this previous collaborator. This person was not your previous supervisor. You know you work well with them -- this is academic gold. You'll likely have the opportunity to catch-up on publishing your PhD papers too. Perhaps branch out further for your next postdoc, but don't sweat what is a short-term post anyways.

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Is it a bad move? Not necessarily, and the other answers make some solid points why.

Is it the optimal move? Not necessarily. In the end, the goal of a post-doc is to build a track record in which you are a serious competitor in a tough job market, where the level of toughness, depending on the field, varies between "tough" and "insanely tough".

By extending their group of close collaborators, your peers who start with a fresh advisor might gain a competitive advantage that you won't have to the same extent.

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  • Thank you for your answer. My concern was more about a red flag recruiters could see that you do a post doc in a group of someone you collaborated a lot during your Phd. For instance doing a postdoc with your phd advisor is a red flag. I was wondering if it would be the same with someone you already collaborated a lot. Or if it is not seen under the same eye.
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 12:00
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    @StarBucK My concern is that just focusing on the avoiding of red flags might not be enough to reach your goals. Dec 21, 2021 at 12:04
  • Of course but I just wanted to know if you would see it as a red flag. Because maybe there is actually no issue with respect of having a red flag (ie no recruiter will see it as problematic). The only "issue" would be related to the networking (which I would see as being minor in this case)
    – user47115
    Dec 21, 2021 at 12:25
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    @StarBucK If you're hoping to enter some industry position, as hinted by your mention of recruiters, you might ask if any postdoc is the right thing for you. Dec 22, 2021 at 0:45
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    Doing a postdoc with your phd supervisor is not a red-flag. It's only a red-flag if that is your only postdoc experience.
    – Dilworth
    Dec 22, 2021 at 1:12
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There are some practical considerations for doing or not doing a postdoc with a person that you have worked with:

Why move on

  • To find a job in future you will need recommendation letters - at least three of them, from the people that you have closely worked with (a letter from a department director or a professor that gave you a course suffice only for recent PhD graduates). Doing a postdoc in a different groupusually adds at least one name to your list of references.
  • If your field is so narrow that you cannot even find a postdoc position in it, then finding the next postdoc position or a professor position might be pretty challenging as well. Doing a postdoc in a somewhat different field is a good way to increase your versatility. I know it seems hard when you are deeply in love with yoru current subject, but it is because you have never worked on anything else - there is plenty of interesting stuff out there!
  • Doing a postdoc in a new place may be a good opportunity to travel, meet new people, learn a foreign language, and perhaps even decide to make a career in a different country (where the academic system may be very different from what you are used to).

Why stay

  • Sometimes being a big expert in a specific field may make yoru carrier. In some areas it takes more than 3-4 years of PhD to produce something valuable or learn a high-notch approach to solving problems (depending on your field).
  • If the people you work with have enough clout to assure your professional advancement, this might be a good reason as well.
  • Finally, there are also personal reasons that may motivate one to stay or not go too far - sometimes one have to balance career and personal life.

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