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I am a sixth year PhD student in a STEM field at a US university. I want to do a postdoc after graduation and remain in academia. I am unsure how to discuss/arrange/settle on (couldn't find an accurate verb to describe, as you'll see) a graduation plan with my advisor?

Context to consider:

  1. As an international student, I need to maintain a legal status, which means there is limited time between PhD graduation and starting a postdoc job. I have mentioned this to my advisor, who has mentored international students before. There are past instances where international students remained in the group after graduation as a postdoc for some time. Still, I am worried that my advisor is not fully aware of this, and may suddenly ask me to defend, graduate, and leave when I have not secured a postdoc position;
  2. I get along with my advisor, and my publications have fulfilled the graduation requirements/expectations.
  3. As you may wonder, I don't have postdoc job lined up yet. It is not because I cannot find one, but because I have not started job searching. Why? When I raised the idea of looking for postdoc positions a year ago, my advisor thought the current project I was (and am still) doing had potentially high impact, and did not want me to disclose it to other professors to avoid being scooped, since I would talk about my PhD research in postdoc interviews. In addition, my advisor also encouraged me to work with influential professors in the field (competitive to get in) for my postdoc and said it would be difficult to land as a postdoc in those research groups with my existing already published research profile. I kind of agreed with the assessment and kept working on my project without mentioning about postdoc with my advisor again ever since, thinking it would be mutually beneficial to both my advisor and myself to get a nice paper out. Over the past year, my advisor wants better and better results coming out of this project to publish a big paper, but I don't know if continuing this is good for me, when my advisor also remains silent about my graduation timeline.

My reservation about bringing up this matter again is that I might appear as unproductive and unwilling to work anymore. My advisor's recommendation letter would be crucial so I could not act on my own in postdoc job hunt. If I brought up this matter again, perhaps my advisor may not become unhappy, maybe just a little disappointed (or unemotional, if you think cynically that many advisors nowadays think students are "spendable"), but you never know what is on my advisor's mind.

Hope I have made my situation clear and would appreciate any suggestions.

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    When do you plan to graduate (certainly not this Spring, since nothing is ready, and your hopes of finding a job at this point are not impressive)? It's completely and utterly fine to discuss your graduation plans with your advisor. Assuming that you want to graduate next Spring, job search will start this Fall. You might need some preparations before that, so I see no reason why discussing it might be problematic. In fact, it might be concerning that, being at the 6th year, you and your advisor didn't discuss the graduation for the entire year.
    – Dmitry
    Apr 23, 2023 at 1:47
  • "you never know what is on my advisor's mind", no, we don't, but you can find out. You need to have an honest and open conversation with them asap. Sending a version of what you have written here as an email would be a good first step. Apr 23, 2023 at 15:31

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This is crazy. Of course you can and should discuss a graduation timeline and lining up a postdoc. Your advisor, if they are even near reasonable, should encourage you and even help you find a good postdoc, through their contacts. How would they think that wanting to finish will make you less productive? It won't, and your advisor should not assume this.

How should you discuss it? Make an appointment. Have a plan written up. In a matter-of-fact tone, tell them you are finishing and want to establish a plan for the final stretch. Don't be demanding but also don't apologize for wanting to finish.

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    Unfortunately, having an irresponsible advisor is not that uncommon. The question is what the student should do in this situation. Apr 23, 2023 at 14:53

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