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Post completion of my PhD in 2020 I spent one year finishing pending publications, teaching as a part-timer, and applying for some jobs. Then, I had to return to my home country, where I immediately joined a school as an assistant professor since 2021. It is a very good school locally but it has a low rank globally. I have just taken this job since I had no other options and continued applying for jobs elsewhere. I am struggling to continue in my current position due to national circumstances that I have no control over nor my current university. I am applying for both assistant professor and postdoc positions.

Does it look negative to apply for a postdoc while I am currently an assistant professor since two years? I secured a few interviews so far, for both positions, yet no official offer.

I am thinking that being an assistant professor while applying for postdoc positions might have caused a bad perception of me and hinders my hiring. As I have applied to over 50 positions during last two years without success.

I found these related questions, but they don't answer my question.

Postdoc in reputed university vs Assistant professor in below average university

Assistant Professor position at a VERY low rank University or a Postdoc at VERY high rank University? (Please advice)

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    Are you applying to postdoc positions in your home country, abroad or both?
    – Sursula
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 12:37
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    "Does it look negative" compared to what? Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 13:05
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    Given Covid, one might hope for more flexibility and understanding with respect to decisions made in the 2020-2022 time frame in academia (and elsewhere). One can only try and see what happens.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 13:20
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    I wouldn't worry that much about this, because regardless of how it looks to some people, I doubt that this is a major reason why somebody would not win a postdoc position. At least in all committees of which I was member where decisions about such positions were made, I haven't seen any candidate who didn't get the job offered for such a reason, and I have seen candidates like this. Usually there is a requirement for formal reasons why a person will be offered a position or not, and I don't know any place where this would be an acceptable reason. Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 16:55
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    I have seen a number of people from globally not well known universities apply to a lower level position at a top university abroad, even for a PhD studentship. I think this is not so unusual and not in itself an issue. Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 17:25

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tl;dr: to a certain extent, it does.

If you apply to a postdoc from an assistant professor job, it means clearly that your current job is "not good" in some sense, otherwise you wouldn't think of demoting yourself. This cast doubt on your career, your success and your strategic planning (why did you take that job if it's so bad that you consider demotion?).

It also casts some doubt on the credibility of your credentials, since it portrays your current institute of a very low-tier.

On the other hand, this doesn't mean you shouldn't try to apply to postdoc. Once you secure a postdoc in a better institute your past would mostly be forgotten. It just means that it would be a bit harder to find a postdoc while you are an assistant professor.

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    Given the potentially highly limited life choices in 2020-2021, some leeway may be granted.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 13:50
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    Once you secure a postdoc in a better institute your past would mostly be forgotten It'd still be on one's CV, no?
    – Allure
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 10:59
  • @Allure, yes, but it will be perceived as the candidate already showing they can make the leap from low-tier to higher-tier. So this may even count as a positive, proving the candidate's resilience.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 17:58
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I think you are asking the wrong question. Suppose you get the postdoc. Presumably you will eventually want to apply for assistant professor positions again. So the important question is: does it look bad when applying for an assistant professor position if the candidate previously had one but left it to do a postdoc?

This could potentially have much more serious consequences than your current question, and if you wait until you start applying for assistant professor positions to ask it, it will be too late to do anything about it.

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    This is exactly implied in my question since none is going to saty as postdoc for the rest of his life!!. Once I secure a postdoc position that will be the right time to ask your question as I may not get it at all, who knows ??!!
    – AlFagera
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 3:46
  • @AlFagera My point is that if moving to a postdoc will make it difficult to get back to an assistant professor, you need to find this out before getting the postdoc, not after. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 10:18
  • Hmm... If I heard that an assistant prof had applied for a postdoc job, my first guess would be that they'd discovered they really didn't like teaching, and wanted to return to a more purely research-focused job, in which case they probably wouldn't want to become an assistant prof again later. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 18:27
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The answer to the question is hard, because it might not be the question that matters. The "why" matters a lot.

Looking at your career trajectory, you have to ask yourself "what can I do with a post doc that I can't do at my own institution?" If you can produce at your current institution, you will be able to get an asst. prof (or even an assoc. prof) position faster at a higher institution than if you took a post doc. If your current institution does not have the resources or environment for you to be successful and productive, then getting a post doc somewhere that does would be helpful. But at the post doc, you have to produce and succeed at a very high level to be competitive after.

If you are doing it because you think a bigger name university alone will help you advance your career, you would probably be better off stating where you are and producing, then moving to a higher tier university.

A producing, independent asst. prof at a low tier university is much more valuable/marketable than a post doc without a history of independence or productivity from a top tier university.

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I have gone through a similar experience. I believe you are trying to obtain a position in an overseas institute. So, to answer your question, it does not look negative at all to apply for a postdoc position while holding a faculty position in a different country plus different system/standards like in your case. In many countries PhDs go for non-research teaching positions in small institutes/liberal arts colleges and return to research intense academic institutions to start or resume their postdoctoral work. My advice to you is first make the decision as to what position you want to apply; postdoc or assistant professorship as this will help you better prepare for the application process and the transition. I guess this understanding is important because you don't want any hiring committees to explain which position is most suited for you as it will be a time waste. Other advice is sooner the better as some PIs, and Universities prefer to recruit fresh PhDs for postdoc positions, but this is not always the case. For your postdoc application, make sure you indicate what an assistant professorship in your country actually means in terms of international standards. In some countries, it's just a job title where people teach classes. If you clarify this in your application, you can avoid the risk of looking like you are a failed assistant professor. And everything else just do as how a potential candidate would prepare an application for a postdoc position in a high-ranking institute. So, it is absolutely possible to secure a postdoc position for someone like you if that is what you want. Good luck!

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I have a friend who earned his PhD in civil engineering in the US and gave up an assistant professor position at a local (non-US based) university, which, although reputable locally, had a lower global ranking. He then decided to pursue a postdoc in the US because he felt bored with his field and wanted to explore something different, such as data science. Initially, he faced numerous rejections when applying for postdoc positions in data science in the US. Consequently, he made the decision to pursue another master's degree in the US and used this experience to connect with potential advisors (PIs). Ultimately, this strategy proved successful as he secured a postdoc position with one of the faculty members from his master's program at one of the top universities in the US, as reflected by global ranking. He has now been in his new research area for five years.

I'm not sure if it would be perceived negatively when applying for an assistant professor position if the candidate previously held such a position and then left it to pursue a postdoc. However, I want to emphasize that it is indeed possible to secure a postdoc even after leaving an assistant professor position. What's important is to strategize and work towards your goals.

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