10

I am finishing PhD studies in a field of physics, and I want to do something similar (but more advanced) for a postdoc. However after browsing Linkedin, Researchgate, Nature Careers and some others, I found that there aren't relevant postdocs.

But there are plenty of interesting PhD programs that would be a nice continuation of what I did.

I know that doing two PhDs is generally discouraged here, but my only alternative are boring corporate jobs that boil down to making powerpoints adjacent to what I studied.

14
  • 3
    What country/region is this? In the US specifically, this is exactly the time of year where few people have active recruitment for postdocs. Application deadlines are usually earlier in the winter.
    – user137975
    Feb 16, 2023 at 14:53
  • 34
    IMO “boring corporate jobs that boil down to making powerpoints adjacent to what I studied” is a massive misconception. Some would say that teaching the same material every year is more or less equivalent to making boring powerpoints adjacent to what you studied. Feb 16, 2023 at 23:01
  • 17
    Your alternative is also opening a bakery, building a startup or living as a monk in Tibet. There are not just 2 life paths here. Feb 17, 2023 at 11:19
  • 14
    Btw, if you see labs with "open PhDs which could be a nice continuation of what you did", you could also send an email to the PI, asking if they have considered hiring a postdoc instead (usually, funding for 3 years of PhD can be converted to 1.5 years of postdoc)
    – Clef.
    Feb 17, 2023 at 14:49
  • 5
    We don't know the details, but It might be a mistake to look for a very specific topic for a postdoc: as a postdoc, you're hired to conduct whatever work is offering funding. The goal is for you to strengthen your profile with new experience and publications. In principle this is temporary, and you will eventually learn to get your own funding to do the research that you want. Basically a postdoc is a potential door to becoming an autonomous researcher, it's too early to be picky about the topic.
    – Erwan
    Feb 17, 2023 at 18:45

5 Answers 5

38

This is not a direct answer, as I do not have enough experience to say anything about a second PhD. But there is something to be said about finding a postdoc position. In my experience, many people (me included) did not find a postdoc by looking for advertised positions. Instead, you can reach out to potential supervisors directly, usually by email, and ask whether they have any opening for a postdoc position*. It helps if you have met them before or have any sort of connection, but it is not necessary. Usually, you'd want to include a short summary of who you are, what you would like to work on, and why you want to work with them.

In your case, you are already in a good position: you have already identified several groups that are looking for people to work on topics you are interested in. You should reach out and simply ask if they are also looking for postdocs to work on the same topic: in many cases, it may be possible that they can convert the PhD position into a postdoc.

*: I appreciate this may differ depending on the country and the research field.

12

I’m not sure what you are trying to achieve with another PhD. Really. For one, living on a student salary is not something most people want to extend if they can avoid it.

There aren’t enough faculty (or even postdoc) positions in physics for every graduating PhD student, so why would you think your chances of landing such jobs will increase once you have spent another 4 years working on another similar degree? In other words, what are the odds that doing another PhD will improve your situation rather than simply delay your entry to the private sector, which is where the vast majority of physics jobs are?

Realistically you will not find a private sector job doing supersymmetry or string theory but the most recent available study (2015) of the American Society asked

(p)hysicists who worked in the private sector … to identify the most rewarding aspects of their jobs. They wrote that they found their jobs intellectually stimulating and challenging, and that they enjoyed regularly working with smart and interesting people

and that

(t)he types of careers commonly pursued by physicists in the private sector involved solving complex problems, managing projects, and writing for a technical audience.

It is also the case that, in “hot” fields like quantum information, private companies can’t hire physics graduates fast enough. In Canada, a country which historically lacks the US in terms of private sector jobs for physicists, the federal government expects that private sector jobs in quantum technologies will increase 200-fold in the next 20 years or so. That’s 20000%, i.e. that’s really 200 times. I can’t find a similar document for the US but or Europe but the X-factor must be in the same range. Universities have difficulties attracting faculty in this area because they can’t match offers from … you guessed it: the private sector.

All of this to say that suggesting private sector jobs are “boring” is a bit of a broad exaggeration.

If you are hell-bent on doing another degree, consider instead a Masters in a cognate field (computer science or even an MBA) where the timelines are shorter and you can complement or highlight the skill set you picked up in your PhD.

7
  • 4
    Does OP really have to be trying to achieve anything other than keeping a roof over their head and dinner on the table for another 3 years? I was unemployed for 13 months between my first and second postdoc jobs, and 23 months between my third postdoc and landing a faculty job, and doing a second PhD in those 36 months would have paid a lot more than the bits of casual admin assistant and GTA work I managed to pick up. Feb 17, 2023 at 16:26
  • 1
    I do not know how long your postdoc lasted but assuming 2 years/postdoc you're looking at something like 9 years after completion of PhD to find a faculty position. I'm glad to learn it worked out for you but your story is not IMO a terribly compelling argument to continue beyond the first PhD. Feb 17, 2023 at 16:35
  • 2
    ... I know many more people in situations similar to yours who never found a faculty position than who did find one. Feb 17, 2023 at 16:38
  • 2
    Proceed with caution when you see the government or societies announcing hot fields, life has a way of taking turns. I'm skeptical of predicted 200x increases, but YMMV. Best of luck! Feb 17, 2023 at 22:42
  • 1
    @Aruralreader yes that X factor is unreliable but even if it's 100, that would still be incredible. I also take such estimates with a lot of salt but it seems clear that field is hot at least now. At any rate, my point remains: industry jobs are not necessarily about making boring powerpoint transformations. Feb 17, 2023 at 23:17
4

In general, it is very rare to see/have someone do a second PhD. Depending on the country you are in, you are not even allowed to do one in a similar area, only in a different field. So sporadically you come across someone who has a PhD in physics and theology, for example.

Apart from that, I would also suggest that you think about why you want to do another PhD. Presumably because you like what you are doing right now in terms of day-to-day work. But what are your longer term dreams/desires/wishes? Where do you see yourself in 5 years or 10 years? Do you want to stay in academia? If so, then a postdoc would seem like a logical follow up as it would prepare you towards independence or a staff scientist position. Maybe you want to teach mostly?

I'd say: grant yourself the time to explore options. There are plenty of physicists super happy doing exciting work outside of academia, so talk to them and see if their life/work would fit you or not. Same for academia.

An definitely e-mail labs you are interested in and offer to write your own grants to support your salary etc. to increase your chances of landing a postdoc if that's what you want.

2

A second PhD is a strange enough choice that I think it will not look nearly as bad on your resume as people think.

I knew someone that a PhD in physics and then got a PhD in philosophy and ended up in a successful career in philosophy of science.

A professor I knew did a PhD in both math and in biology. Also my PI when I was an undergrad I've heard claims that he was chosen because he had masters in chemical engineering (I think), which made him stick out for our engineering focused school.

I would say if your new PhD is sufficiently different, it will make you certainly look a lot more unique to other candidates and will also give you the option of transitioning to something that's a better fit for you.

Overall though, if you can manage to change fields by getting a postdoc position in the new field of interest, I think this is a lot more natural of a progression.

2

Аndrea is right, in that sometimes the funds for hiring a PhD student may be converted into hiring a postdoc. With this circumstance in mind, you indeed should continue your search.

Nonetheless, as a back-up option, you still may consider doing a second PhD in an adjacent area. My friend, who had received his PhD in solid state physics in the Ukraine, found it difficult to get a permanent position in the US. So he made a decision to do his second PhD, this time in material science, and at a well-known American school. Given his excellent background, he did it relatively easily and quickly. Soon thereafter, he obtained a permanent job at a respected government lab.

So, if your financial and family circumstances permit you to do this, you still may consider the 2nd PhD as a back-up option.

You must log in to answer this question.

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