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I've seen candidates for tenure-track positions in computer science that managed to negotiate a starting date that is a year later than originally planned. During that additional year, they all seem to be doing a PostDoc in various places.

I'm wondering what the benefit of this is. Many departments provide you with a lighter teaching load during your first year, so it seems to me that the overhead with moving to a new place (for just a year), working on a postdoc salary, and then, before the 12 months are up, moving again, doesn't strike me as an efficient way to develop one's career.

Is there some big advantage of doing such a postdoc rather than immediately starting your tenure-track position that I'm missing?

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Once you have a t-t position, you're in a race against time to get as many publications as you can before your tenure clock runs out.

A postdoc effectively gives you one more year of focused attention to research and publications before you have to start teaching.

Note that teaching can be highly disruptive to research and publications, especially in your first year.

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    Right. Even if you get a light load your first tenure-track year, if you postpone, you get a year with very light or no teaching, and then a year with light teaching. – Nate Eldredge Jan 7 '15 at 8:23
  • I see. A question aside, regarding tenure decisions, are only the publications considered from the start of your t-t position or since the beginning of your career? – curiousacademic Jan 7 '15 at 8:36
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    It depends. You have to ask if your tenure clock resets when you start or not. I don't have any sense of what percentage reset or not. However, note that publication pipelines are often long so even if you submit an article in your postdoc year, it might not be published until well after you've taken the job. – RoboKaren Jan 7 '15 at 8:46
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    @curiousacademic In theory, at least in my department, only since the start of the position. In practice, at least in my department, such a clean separation is simply impossible. – JeffE Jan 9 '15 at 4:47
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In addition to postponing the tenure clock by a year, there's another benefit that can accrue from a postdoc: you get to learn a new area, and work with a new group of people, which will improve your group management and leadership experience, and broaden your knowledge base for the future.

9

I think there are three main benefits:

  1. Delay the start of the clock. When a TT position starts, you have a fixed amount of time until your tenure case goes up for review. At that point, your whole portfolio of work and letters from scholars in your field and everything else will be evaluated. If you have more time to publish and build a reputation, you can do more in this regard and build a stronger portfolio and a stronger case for tenure.

  2. Focus on research. Tenure cases are evaluated almost completely in terms of research productivity, quality, and impact. Post-docs are usually full-time research positions. TT jobs are largely teaching and service. In this sense, there are some ways that it's easier to build a tenure case without a tenure track job!

  3. Work in another institution. If you have a job at University X but have an offer for a post-doc at University Y (perhaps a more prestigious institution) this way you can still take the job and add the CV line for Y. It's also a great way to build your network and start collaborations.

Of course, post-docs certainly not without costs once you have the TT job in hand. For example, post-docs generally can't apply for grants as principle investigators and this is something that often matters for tenure.

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    I have never heard of the restriction that postdocs cannot be PIs on grants. It must be specific to some funding agencies and/or grants. – Oswald Veblen Jan 8 '15 at 2:35
  • In the mathematical sciences, postdocs can apply for both NSF and NSA grants as PIs. I did a little googling, and it looked to me that more often than not postdocs can be PIs on NSF grants (but I did find an exception). If there are fields in which postdocs are usually not eligible to be PIs on NS grants, it would be useful to know. – Pete L. Clark Jan 8 '15 at 5:10
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    @PeteL.Clark: The rules I ran up against were from my institution rather than the funder. Basically, my sense is that schools don't want to have longer-term funding tied to a PIs without long term position. I did a post-doc year with an accepted TT job in the department where I would start the job and I had to get special written permission from the dean in order to apply for grants as a PI because my title was not on the list of titles that the OSP allowed to be a PI. – Benjamin Mako Hill Jan 8 '15 at 7:18
  • That's interesting. In my department, certain postdocs are required by us to apply for grant support each year. – Pete L. Clark Jan 8 '15 at 17:24
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    @PeteL.Clark: this is more a matter of how the university classifies postdocs, I believe. For example the Szegő Assistant Professors at Stanford are PI-eligible (the university considers them faculty), whereas C.L.E. Moore Instructors at MIT are not PI-eligible positions, though this can be gotten around in certain ways. – Tom Church Jan 8 '15 at 18:45
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I can't comment so take it as a possible answer to what has already been correctly said. Usually, postdoc positions are tax-free (at least in Canada for a limited number of years). It is certainly not the main reason to delay tt but a rather pleasant one.

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