I recently obtained my PhD in mathematics (about 6 months ago). I started a nice project in my PhD, but did not push to its limits (due to personal problems that occurred during my PhD that diverted my attention), as a result I have few publications and I think I have almost zero chance of getting a postdoc at the moment.

I might be able to get a low paying assistant professor or lecturer position in a university located in a low paying country. I am thinking about doing that to take some time (2-3 years) to work on my publications and then reapply for postdoc.

If I follow that plan, will postdoc admission committees give me a lower priority just because I held different an assistant professor position somewhere in the world? I noticed lots of postdocs positions have a rule that the PhD should be obtained within 5 years. Is this the rule in general?

  • 1
    The title of this post is misleading--can the OP say something like "If I Were an Assistant Professor, Could I Apply for a Postdoc?"
    – Parrever
    Feb 26 at 0:33
  • Since you mention moving to another country and did not specify where you are, I just wanted to add that in Germany postdocs are paid well and the job market is not very crowded, so if you manage to find an open position there, your chances may not be too low.
    – Dirk
    Mar 1 at 19:17
  • 2
    "Few publications" is usually more than enough to get a postdoc in mathematics. Mar 2 at 14:35
  • @QuantumBrick What about few submitted papers, and 1-2 publications ? Mar 6 at 17:39
  • @lostanonymous If the papers make extensive use of modern techniques in order to prove a new result, publishing 2 such papers during your phD can be a phenomenal achievement. For more applied fields without abstract proofs, e.g. some nice upper bound estimate of convergence of a particular numerical method (hard analysis), 2 papers might be less impressive to some (but not to me!). It would be easier if I knew your field. Mar 8 at 1:52

3 Answers 3


This doesn't seem to me like an optimal career move, unless you would be happy in that assistant professor slot and wish to get tenured there. You are correct that postdocs are intended for people fresh out of doctoral programs and are also intended to help people get positions like the one you are applying from. Some people would worry that you have failed as an assistant professor by applying for a postdoc - not a good look and you would need to address that possibility.

But, your post sounds like everything is hypothetical. I'd apply both for postdocs and for regular positions and see what develops. But I'd try to avoid, if possible, any position in which you wouldn't be happy. It is hard, mentally, to succeed in such a position.

If you can maintain contacts with people so that you aren't working alone in such a potentially "weak" institution, then you might be able to extend your CV, but you will be busy there and, if you are working alone, even in math, it is hard to be productive. You would need to find a way to have frequent conversations with colleagues. Not every institution will provide that.

  • Tenure probably does not exist in the "low paying country." Feb 25 at 18:44
  • 4
    "postdocs are intended for people fresh out of doctoral programs" That's widely claimed, but the true purpose is to hire people more credentialed than PhD students who can be paid less than faculty. If there is a requirement to hire a PhD to teach a course, a postdoc could be the cheapest way to do it. Feb 25 at 18:46
  • What is the optimal career move then in the OP scenario , if S/he can't get a postdoc ? Stay jobless until S/he has more publications ?
    – Amr
    Feb 26 at 15:53
  • @Amr, I mean leaving an assistant professor job for a postdoc. Or, more precisely, planning to do so. Try to work your career forward from where you are, not backward. Done well, you can produce publications from an assistant professor position, hopefully maintaining stability. Then, move forward or up.
    – Buffy
    Feb 26 at 15:57
  • @Buffy you mean the right move is to work on publications, then apply for an assistant professor at a higher institution?
    – Amr
    Feb 26 at 16:29

Depending on your country, you should check the postdoc funding available and the post-PhD eligibility criteria. 2-3 years would exclude you from some opportunities in my region (EU) and field (not mathematics).

I do not know exactly what you mean by a "low paying country" but am guessing perhaps institutions in the so-called Global South, poorer EU countries in Eastern and Central Europe, or maybe declining Western economies such as the UK. In those cases, you should also carefully look at the teaching load. The priority of many institutions with a small budget is not research, but teaching. Depending on the country, you may also be evaluated on your research output but given very little time to accomplish this. You also need to make sure you are happy and enjoying your life, otherwise your professional progress could be hampered.

Here is what comes to mind for me. The best case scenario, if your PhD was promising, could be that you spin out a number of high-quality publications with relative ease in a short space of time. The worst case scenario is that you spend all of your time teaching and have very little time or energy for research. You could get stuck in a rut. It is hard to assess the risk within those bounds without knowing more about your field and your specific case.

In the short term, you could ask senior colleagues and mentors for feedback on your CV and application materials. They may be able to suggest field-specific funding opportunities. If you have a lot of material that could be publishable soon, a shorter postdoc might form a good bridge to future opportunities. Winning one postdoc funding will attract further funding, a bonus for future postdoc and professor applications.


Your approach may be a high risk one. I have noticed many new assistant professors being swamped with teaching duties and getting on top of teaching for the first few years. This can easily result in much less time for research than you hope for, and hence less productive publication building.

  • So what would you suggest in my case ? Mar 6 at 17:38

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