11

I have read from multiple sources that doing a postdoc in the same university as a PhD is not ideal. It is heavily encouraged to go elsewhere once graduating. Furthermore, often one applies to many postdoc positions, and its the luck of the draw where one ends up. However, I am curious how future hiring committees factor things like the two-body (and soon to be three-body) problem.

For context, my wife's career is taking off and we are hoping to start a family (we are in our early thirties). Both these considerations make it highly ideal to stay in the same city. That being said, the only professor in the area and is in my field is my current PhD advisor. A plus is my projects collaborate with non-overlapping sets of collaborators and my work is fairly diverse.

While my PI does encourage me to apply to other positions, it is possible to do a postdoc with him. I am curious the ramifications of such a choice. If I tell a hiring committee that I chose to stay because of family considerations, is that a deal breaker? Furthermore, I may just be kicking the can down the road, as at the end of the postdoc I am still left with the same problem, although stability in the early years of starting a family might be more warranted.

There are less ideal options that may or may not be available, depending on funding:

  1. One of my current collaborators has a lab that is a 1.5 hr commute away. I am aware that he has an opening soon that I could potentially take advantage of. Plus, I also mostly do simulations, so maybe he would be okay with working from home a few days a week (I have yet to ask him, as I have no idea if that is something that's even polite to ask).

  2. Do a postdoc with a different professor within the same university. This is hard as there isn't a good fit, but there are a few that are similar enough that could work, assuming they have availability and funding of course.

  3. Bite the bullet and move to another city.

Any advice on what an acceptable course of action given these circumstances would be greatly appreciated.

P.S.: I am in East Asia if it matters.

1
  • 11
    A vague bit of advice - do what makes you happy and don’t risk your happiness by moving cities to somewhere you don’t want on a vague idea of becoming more employable. Perhaps it will, but life is too short to constantly uproot yourself to places you don’t want to go to.
    – user438383
    Jan 27, 2023 at 7:44

5 Answers 5

16

It is looked down on by some people, but I believe that is less common than it used to be. We have several new profs in my dept that did their PhDs in the same labs as their postdocs. Indeed in one case that PhD and postdoc was in the same dept where they are now a PI.

So will it hurt your career? Possibly. Is it career suicide? No. The key is to think about how you demonstrate your independence, show you can succeed without your PI. Particularly if they are a big name in your field.

Finally, just to reiterate what @user438383 said in the comments: Don't sacrifice your happiness, or that of your family, on the altar of some vague possible career advantage.

10

It's not necessarily career suicide, but it's a bit like running a race with 10 kg weights strapped to your legs. It puts you at a disadvantage compared to the other runners. You may still win the race if you're good enough, but it clearly makes things harder.

Academia is very competitive, and good jobs are scarce and highly sought after. There are many people for whom the dream of a good academic job (in the particular geographic location they want to live in) is either unattainable, or attainable in theory but requires personal sacrifices they may not be willing to make. That may be frustrating, but it's no different from how things work in many other competitive professions and industries. You need to think about what your priorities are, and evaluate your personal situation given what you know about your own talents, the competitive landscape in the job market you're targeting, and how much doing a postdoc with your current PhD advisor is going to negatively (or positively!) affect your development as a scientist and your job prospects. Then make a decision. I won't lie, it's a real dilemma, and there isn't a correct answer or an answer that won't carry the risk of disappointment or regret.

Other answers offer advice such as "don't sacrifice your happiness" and "[don't] sacrifice your family plans for the sake of a better CV". I think this sort of advice is misguided (and the opposite advice to put your professional development above all else would be equally misguided). We can tell you what the possible consequences of each decision may be, but only you can decide how to factor that into your calculations and what decision is right for you.

Good luck!

3
  • 3
    +1 This answer is spot-on. Elaborating on the consequences of the available choices is likely to be much more useful to the OP than telling them what they "should" or "should not" sacrifice. Jan 27, 2023 at 18:59
  • 1
    > "attainable in theory but requires personal sacrifices they may not be willing to make." This is definitely true. It might entail moving to a country that lacks certain human rights, for example.
    – cgb5436
    Jan 27, 2023 at 20:08
  • 1
    @cgb5436 as a side note: it is true and this does not seem to be an issue for "scientists", as long their own personal life has sparkling prospexts, see the high number of skilled people flowing to the US.
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 27 at 12:33
7

My recommendation to you would be NOT to sacrifice your family plans for the sake of a better CV. While staying at your university may not be optimal (in the eyes of some), it will certainly be overweighed by the quality of your research.

As a compromise, you may consider spending a year at that other position 1.5 hr away (but only if they permit you to work from home 3-4 days a week) -- and then returning back to your professor for your second postdoc.

If the hiring committee enquires why you prefer to stay, you may explain to them that you and your current professor are now getting so important scientific results that it would be impossible to interrupt this so fruitful collaboration. If I were a member of the hiring committee, I would be satisfied with this answer.

As BioBrains rightly said, it may be better for you to somewhat change or broaden the topic of your studies, if you choose to stay, -- but you should mention these plans to the hiring committee only if you feel that this would help you.

One way or another, I would put my family plans first.

6

Doing something (in this case: uprooting your life) ONLY to make sure it makes you more employable later on is never a good enough reason, I think. There are no guarantees that you will ever get the dream career you have in mind, even WHEN you do everything by the book to make you "most employable" - so therefore, you should always do things because you, intrinsically want them.

Remember: it's rare that you get to have it all - you will have to make decisions in life and each choice will come with consequences.

So ask yourself: What do you want your career to be like? If you want to end up being a professor with unlimited research funds at Harvard, this means you will have to do everything you can to end up in that league. That will come with sacrifices (such as moving now, but also putting work first for decades to come). Maybe that will make you happy, maybe not.

Also sketch the scenario of staying where you are - how would you fill that position and what would a next step be? - and discuss this with your current PI. How do they envision your road to independency? What would you need from them to craft your own line of research?

If you do stay, I would in either case recommend that you do try to switch fields or topics somewhat - and with that I mean that you have to start working on a new question so you can expand your technical and conceptual horizon. Don't continue to work on your PhD thesis project, but start something new. That will allow you to develop a new project from scratch, build your own network etc. independently even when you are staying with your current PI.

1
  • 2
    >"There are no guarantees that you will ever get the dream career you have in mind, even WHEN you do everything by the book to make you "most employable."" This is devastating but true. Just because you don't get the job you want doesn't necessarily mean you did anything "wrong." I think this is much more realistic than telling someone that if they work hard enough they'll land whatever dream job they want. A tough pill to swallow, for sure.
    – cgb5436
    Jan 27, 2023 at 20:10
3

I see the question of postdoc location as actually irrelevant to the real career decision that you need to make here. Do you want to be a professor, or do you want to be a scientist?

  • If you want a career as a professor, it will be very difficult to get hired in the same city, no matter where you do your postdoc. Doing a postdoc will not change this problem, no matter where you do it.

  • If you want a career as a scientist, there are likely many opportunities in the city outside of "traditional academia". There is a much biggest scientific ecosystem out there than it looks like from inside of a Ph.D. program, and in that larger world the location of your postdoc is likely to matter much less than its content.

In short, I think there is no reason not to do a postdoc right where you are. If you and your partner do not want to move (and that's an entirely reasonable choice to make!) then don't move. Your next step after postdoc will be no easier geographically, and you can develop your career by good work in a lab you love.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .