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I have studied applied math and got a phd (3yrs) in that field with applications in fluid dynamics. Then in my first postdoc (1.5yrs) I did again a postdoc in applied math but studied applications in biological modeling. Now in my second postdoc (started 2 months ago) I am studying a new application, avalanches. The unifying theme is supposed to be the modeling. My problem is that I am feeling a bit lost, feeling like I have to start again from the beginning in this field (methods, codes et.c). I am completely lost and even if I try to make myself see that as a challenge, I am thinking that I want to go and study computational cosmology but then in this way I will never be enough successful for academia. This is because no ones wants someone that knows a little bit of everything but is expert in nothing. There are other things that I like as topics but not my current postdoc ( I actually got it only because I could not find another position on time to leave the first postodoc ). Can you please give me some advice? I would really appreciate it, since I am feeling lost for too long now.

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  • Do you like what you do or not? Can you afford to live on your own money? And sorry the harsh question, no judgement on you, why cannot you look for a job to meet ends of the months payments like the 95% of people on this planet who did not have the privilege to make a job out of their passion (which is usually the case and the problem of academia). Reg. "comp.cosmology" the problem is not the outcome, but the entry, since you state now "I am feeling a bit lost, feeling like I have to start again from the beginning in this field (methods, codes et.c). "Why would comp.cosmology be different?
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 29, 2023 at 8:44

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Research involves both a field/topic and a methodology. In my experience the work is more satisfying if you like both aspects. It seems like you have a technique (modeling) that you're succesful with, but haven't discovered a field you love. Unfortunately, academia is more strongly organized around topics than techniques. Conferences, journals, and research groups tend to be about a field or subfield, with many technqiues or methodologies used to answer questions in that field. Given that, it makes sense that you might feel lost or like an outsider.

I suggest you explore widely to find fields that not only interest you, but where you feel compelled to use your modeling skills to make a contribution to advance understanding within that field. This could include reading general articles, attending/watching seminars, but also visiting labs and talking with researchers. If you have that passion and feel like you've found 'your people' then it will be easier to persist through the difficult times.

You also need to honestly assess how much of your interest in cosmology, for example, is a case of "the grass is always greener", that is, something over there looks more appealing than where you are currently just because it's different and you're not immersed in the struggle of doing the work.

Best of luck finding your way!

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  • I have also the impression that academia is not for me. I find research difficult and I am a very slow learner. I see people around me that are always better than me. I am in my 35 and they are almost all secured with a tenured track position. I feel I am failing at so many levels. I want to leave from the group I am , i think it is a bad fit for me. I did my phd and postdoc abroad but in the same country. Now I want to leave from here and go maybe in anoher country but I am alone and off course I don't know what I want to do next in terms or research (or even life).
    – Riri
    Sep 29, 2023 at 8:16
  • " I see people around me [...] and they are almost all secured with a tenured track position." First: you are the one hanging in the academia through postdocs, so you see only the one remaining in, not the one being (happily) outside. Second: mindyourdecisions.com/blog/2017/07/25/… ;)
    – EarlGrey
    Sep 29, 2023 at 8:45

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