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I'm faced with a choice between two postdoc positions and would appreciate some advice:

Option A: Top 5 World University

  • Project: Aligned with my expertise and research interests.
  • Additional Opportunities: Involvement in teaching, which is vital for me.
  • Concerns: Limited knowledge about certain conditions and the institutional environment.

Option B: Current Institution (Top 50 World University)

  • Project: Complete freedom in research directions.
  • Additional Opportunities:
    • Special budget for data collection.
    • Assistance with grant writing and course teaching.
    • Leading a small team.
    • Visiting other institutions.
  • Concerns:
    • Potential future perceptions regarding my independence as a researcher.
    • Questions about the motivation behind this unexpectedly generous offer.

Additional Background

  • The academic stature seems equivalent between the professors from the two options although the university rankings are quite different.
  • Ultimate Career Goal: Acquiring a faculty position in my home country.
  • A junior advisor advocates for staying due to potential strategic connections from my current advisor in my home country.

Key Concerns and Questions

  1. Could staying at my current institution taint future perceptions of my independence as a researcher?
  2. Why might my current advisor be offering such a favorable deal unexpectedly? It seems he has not made any offers alike before. I asked the junior advisor, he told me because they think I am one of their best students. But still, it is kind of unexpected and could be just an oral deal.

I appreciate any advice or insights into making this decision. Thank you!

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    A: "Limited knowledge" - I think you should be able to find out about these things somehow. 1: Maybe, maybe not, but "leading a small team" at B might outweigh any tainted perceptions. Also relevant to 1 is your "Ultimate Career Goal" - if people in your country don't mind someone staying at the same institution for a long time, perhaps it is not an issue. 2: Why don't you ask the current advisor?
    – toby544
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 9:52
  • @toby544 thanks for the advice. For the Q1, I asked my advisor. He said he doesn't see it as a problem. But the issue is that when I asked another senior researcher at the same institution, she told me it is a rule of thumb to work at different institutions because you can have more connections. Then it is confusing for me... For Q2, you are right. I think I have to ask him directly next week. It is just I am a shy person. Striking deals is an area I'm still becoming accustomed to.
    – hidemyname
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 10:17
  • Q1. Yes. It is not a black and white issue. The thing that the other senior researcher told you is actually different from the point you put in Q1 (actual connections vs perceptions). There are other questions on this site about this - maybe even questions that are almost identical - so I recommend reading the answers to some of those.
    – toby544
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 10:25
  • Q2. I think you will be fine. This is not a hard negotiation, like "I want more money!" You are just wondering why he seems so generous towards you. At the same time, to make it easier, you could ask whether this is a certain and definite offer. But I recommend waiting as others on this site might have other suggestions.
    – toby544
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 10:26
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    I would never recommend taking a job for "strategic connections." It is impossible to tell if they are worth anything. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 16:52

5 Answers 5

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Could staying at my current institution taint future perceptions of my independence as a researcher?

It will taint perceptions of your ability to find a job outside your current university. It will taint perceptions of the breadth of your experience. See https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/143759/13240 https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/154631/13240

Why might my current advisor be offering such a favorable deal unexpectedly? ... he told me because they think I am one of their best students.

In most cases, professors have little discretion in the job offers they can make to postdocs. The offer must be approved by administrators and/or funding agencies. Usually the job is offered to the best applicant and the offer contains whatever resources were previously approved.

Based solely on the information you provided and not the stuff you left out, I would recommend picking A. You will probably learn more from relocating and it never hurts to take advantage of an elitist reputation.

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I moved from tier 1 to tier 2 (regenerative medicine and tissue engineering). Sure, I can't boast about my affiliation and the students are less driven. But the environment is less hostile and the competition for grants is lower, especially because funding agencies have special pools of money for the institutions of our size. And I get to study the niche topic I am interest in. The setup also gave me more stability for immigration purposes, so I managed to concurrently work outside of academia, which put a lot more money in my pocket. As a foreigner, I would always choose stability over prestige.

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If your goal is to land a faculty position in your home country then do what you think helps your career the most in that sense.

Where I am from, international experience at a top institute rates really high, almost a requirement, for getting a faculty position. I would only stay if I think I am on the verge of a major scientific breakthrough or have the possibility to spin out an interesting company. If not, then I would take the risk and move abroad to the more prestigious institute. It will also be good life experience.

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I suggest you don't put too much emphasis on perceived "favorable conditions". If an institution makes you an offer they are also making a prediction of your success in that position. Moreover, they have a vested interest in helping you be a success.

But any institution in the top 50 worldwide is an excellent place. So, too much emphasis on the ranking difference is probably also a mistake.

Look at other factors that will affect your life for the next few years. I'd guess you can make either offer work toward your ultimate goals. It will be a lot of work and isn't an easy ride, but people seem to have faith in you.

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It is a bad idea to do your postdoc at the same institution where you got your PhD. Part of the idea of a postdoc is to expand your network and broaden your horizons.

That said, I think microenvironment is very important. If it isn't fun, it isn't worth doing.

Your postdoc should not be just a means to an end, but a chance to do some of your life's most creative and impactful work.

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