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I’m doing a postdoc in a STEM field in central Europe. I’ve been employed for a year, with a bit over a year of funding left on the contract. Over time, I have become less and less interested in continuing in academia, and I have now started looking for industry jobs.

My dilemma is that I don’t know if I should tell my postdoc host about it. We have a rather good relationship I think, but don’t work closely together on a day-to-day basis, and we have not had any proper career-conversations, just me sometime saying I will probably want to continue in academia, which is not true anymore. Best case scenario, I tell them I want to leave academia, they are supportive, and agree to write letters of recommendation and act as a job reference (which would be the main reason to let them know). However, I’m not sure that would be the case, and I genuinely can’t predict how they would react. The main reason I’m unsure is that I have several ongoing research projects, which would likely never be finished if I found a new job and left. No one else in the group does the same type of highly specialized research as I do, so no one would be able to “adopt” the project. Worst case scenario, they would be very disappointed if I tell them I am looking for other jobs, our relationship would go south, and they would not be interested in helping me in my career.

If I left early for another postdoc or an assistant professor, which I think is completely normal during a postdoc, we would be able to continue to collaborate, and I wouldn’t be hesitant to tell them. Same thing if I was close to the end of my contract. But since I want to leave academia, and leave my position early, I don’t know what to do/what is normal in this case. So the question is: do I tell my postdoc host I’m looking for jobs outside academia?

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    simple answer: no
    – lordy
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 9:38
  • 5
    The job of a postdoc is to get a job. Given the general state of hiring in academia, only supporting you if you apply to academic jobs is short sighted at best. And you have time to pass on your skills to the group (which should have started day one, but…).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 15:19
  • Is your institution signatory to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers? Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 13:38

2 Answers 2

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My personal advice (as someone who has transitioned from a postdoc to industry) is that you should treat your postdoc like any other job. Generally it's a bad idea to announce you are looking for another job before you have a signed offer in hand, because it puts you in a very weak position. On the one hand, your host may be understanding and support you. On the other hand, they may look for a way to cut you out of the group. Either way, their reaction is not something you can control, and not a risk I would personally want to take.

I would not let the impact your departure will have on the work affect how you approach this situation. Ultimately that is not your responsibility. If the work is truly important to the PI and you are legitimately the only person who can do it, then they should hire you to do that work full time (I realize this isn't common in academia, but that's a flaw of the system you are working in). The fact that they haven't and won't is why you are in your current situation. I think it's more likely that either you are really not as irreplaceable as you think and the PI will find a student to get up to speed on what you've been doing, or it will turn out there is a path for the PI to achieve their main objectives without carrying on the direction you've been pursuing. Either way, the work and the PI will be fine. At the end of the day, there will be likely be some temporary pain associated with your departure, but that is completely normal ("part of the cost of doing business") and not your responsibility.

I think it's a good idea to leave on good terms if you can and try to give notice with some time to help finish off and/or transition work to others. But I don't think you should put yourself at risk to achieve that goal. Therefore, I think you should wait until you accept an offer to talk to your PI.

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It is time for you to discuss your renewal contract and perspectives. You are not interested at the moment, but it would be good to discuss with your host now.

You do not have to expose yourself, but you have to know what they think. And they have to remember that you are there on a temporary basis, whatever contribution you can give to the group, can be given for the next 12 months only.

Academia people are rather irrational with respect to job hunting and financial planning. If you tell them you are looking for a job, there is a non-zero chance they will get it as a betrayal of you serving the higher good of progress of the humanity.

However, please remember that plenty of the inspiring manufactures and cultural heritages of the past (for example, the pyramids) are built on hard, unpaid slave work. And the humanity benefitting of unpaid work is incidental.

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