This coming year I'm going to be starting a quantitative post doc in the United States after finishing a PhD.

Is it typical that I will be expected to fully stop all of my PhD work while I'm at the post doc so that I can focus on the new work there? If not, to what extent? For example, is it often considered inappropriate to maintain a pre-existing collaboration?

  • This depends only on the local expectations. We can't give you permission if your PI does not. Ask them. In general, the answer could be yes or no.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 14:04
  • Yes, heavily depends on your advisor - mostly on the extent to which they see you either as a their worker bee, or as a future leader that they aim to guide towards reaching their career ambitions (differs largely, often it's something in the middle). Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 14:55
  • While what you both say is true, it's not at all uncommon (unlike industry) and I think a blanket refusal would almost be a red flag re: the new environment.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 15:00
  • 2
    As a supervisor, there's an element of 'paying it forward' here: at some point you'll leave my lab and go work somewhere else. No doubt there will be things that need finishing then, so it's in my interests to let you finish stuff now.
    – avid
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 16:04

3 Answers 3


Your question has several aspects and I am answering for each of them separately:

  1. Maintaining pre-existing collaboration is welcome in academia if not mandatory to get tenure. When applying for new positions, you might even be asked how large is your network and how it can help us.

  2. You cannot just cut off your PhD work of your area of expertise. You spent years of research and you pushed the state of the art further to deserve the PhD and you got a postdoc position on this basis. You are required to use the knowledge you gained to develop new ideas and push the state of the art further and further.

  3. You did not mention whether your postdoc position is in a project (paid by the grant) or paid by the university. For a university position, you have more freedom and independence in doing research but for a project position, you need to accomplish what is promised in the project proposal. However, there is always room to do independent research, which is highly recommended for postdocs. I have no doubt that your supervisor would support this idea as (s)he is supposed to care about the progress of his/her team members and because it opens new research prospects

  4. If your area of research in your postdoc time is different than that of your PhD, it is even better because as a postdoc, you are still building a career and a research profile and it can be in an interdisciplinary field.


Not sure how all of the points generalize, but from my experience

  • If you're in the mid of an unfinished project (paper), you should tell your new advisor about it. Depending on the priorities both of you agree on, either you keep spending most of your time on that, or you do it at the side of the new main topic you're working on. Offer the new advisor authorship and involve them, even though they may refuse in the end.
  • For subsequent papers with your former advisor as a collaborator the same holds, discuss with the new advisor what they want you to spend your time on. It is nice to retain the collaboration and remain on good terms with them, but the one who pays your salary decides how to spend your working hours (they might be limited in this by a project grant from which you're hired). Things may be more flexible if you obtain your own personal grant.

I think it is normal for a postdoc to work on multiple projects at the same time, so for example an ongoing collaboration can be combined with other ones.


When I started my PhD I was in the middle of my MSc project which we had not finished.

I spoke to my MSc supervisor and he suggested that it would be better to stop the MSc work and start focussing on the PhD work. I imagine the situation is similar here, so you basically need to ask your PhD supervisor what he/she would like to do next.

  • 2
    Here the situation is a little bit different as the PO is moving to post-doc. As a post-doctoral fellow, you may expect a little more freedom than at the moment of Ph.D. admission. Still, it is important to discuss all this with your new employer (and gauge his/her expectations). Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 12:57

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