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I have recently been offered a position for a "postdoc" (fixed term level A position) in Australia.

In the British/Australian (and European) academic systems, career progression is very different from the United States, as outlined in this answer.

In my field (a subset of engineering) we have an authorship order for publications based on contribution level, with the last author being the PI/Advisor of the lab (receiving a lot of credit in the process).

In the British/Australian systems, there is an expectation to informally supervise a few students for post docs. I have been informed that I will be expected to help supervise or actually supervise students and perhaps obtain my own funding as well. In the US most post docs in my field exclusively focus on research, and nearly always get first author.

Additionally, if I'm moved to a B and/or C level academic (sort of like assistant and associate professor respectively here in the US) this supervision and funding responsibility will increase. This part is similar to the United States for a tenure track associate professor.

The difference between the US and the UK/AUS systems is that at the B academic level, I still would not be a professor, and I would have a PI above me. This brings up the authorship question...

Given the different structure between the two systems, does the UK/AUS system dilute the competitiveness and career advancement of junior academics in the UK/AUS system, especially if they intend to migrate back to the US academic system?

The reason that I ask is because in the US, once you are an assistant professor, you will get last author on any papers produced by your lab, but in the UK/AUS system, there may be a professor in charge of junior academics (assistant and associate professor equivalents) who would instead receive last author. This then dilutes the rating of the junior academics among their peers, because they become a middle author instead of the last author.

If this isn't the actual practice, please correct me.

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Academics in Australia are usually on temporary contracts or on continuing contracts. Levels, however, don't directly relate to job permanency in Australia. For example, it's possible for an experienced postdoc (temporary, employed on PI's grant) to be paid at level B (starting rate is typically level A; step 6) and it's also possible for an academic to be appointed at level B for a continuing position (similar to tenure track). Although some level Bs will be on continuing positions, it's also possible for an academic at level C to not have a continuing appointment (e.g. a Future Fellow whose dept. has not committed to support him/her after the fellowship runs out). Yet they are still at level C because that is the appropriate level for their career stage (i.e. IF they had a permanent position, they would be appointed at level C). Most of these people, however, can leverage such a fellowship into a continuing position and start their own lab. This is similar to starting a tenure track position in the USA.

I think it's best to think of levels as representing career stage not the type of job (i.e. the level does not determine whether an academic is on a temporary or permanent contract, especially at levels A/B). You don't rise through the levels from a temporary contract to a permanent position - you must separately apply for a continuing position. This is analogous to how postdocs must apply for tenure track positions in the USA.

With regards to authorship, I think this is very group dependent. Typically postdocs run their own research and get first author while also supervising honours/PhD students and getting a second/middle author paper for that work. The way you describe this in your question (postdocs getting middle author papers but few/no first author papers) does not fit with my experience in Australia but it might occur in some groups. You could, however, find groups like this anywhere in the world. This is something you need to discuss with your potential advisor.

Note: this post has been heavily edited from the initial version to address questions in the comments.

  • Thanks for the answer. I asked for B because I do have experience (in industry) but they don't want to go that high. They said that B is the start of something "like tenure track," i.e., they are on probation to produce results in order to obtain the continuing appointment. So suppose that you are a C level, still managed by an actual professor, and on continuing appointment, how does that change the answer to my question? Will the C level "tenured" academic still not get last author papers because the professor whom they are working for receives it instead? – daaxix May 2 '15 at 22:48
  • Also, I clarified my question, I was under the impression that B is equivalent to "assistant professor" and C is equivalent to "associate professor." – daaxix May 2 '15 at 22:51
  • One more question, I will have a PhD and about 6 years of very relevant industry experience, should I have been offered to start at level B? – daaxix May 2 '15 at 23:20
  • Postdocs can't reach level C as far as I know. Level C will typically be a continuing appointment (i.e. similar to tenure track) so you wouldn't be working under a PI. Level B can be a continuing position but it can also be a payscale for experienced postdocs (perhaps it's best to think of level B as a payscale not a promotion scale). I'm not sure how common it is for postdocs to start at level B so I can't help you there but I do know of postdocs with a lot of experience that have been bumped up from A to B. However, I'm not sure how far up level B postdocs can go. – user49483 May 2 '15 at 23:47
  • @daaxix The appointment level should have been part of the advertisement. If they advertised for Level A and you applied for Level A then it would be really hard to be offered a Level B appointment regardless of experience. You might be able to jump the steps a bit faster though... – o4tlulz May 2 '15 at 23:56
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The difference between the US and the UK/AUS systems is that at the B academic level, I still would not be a professor, and I would have a PI above me.

This largely depends on the type of appointment you get.

Since your appointment is a fixed term position, it means that the funding for the position probably comes from a research project and there is a PI (probably a professor or an associate professor) who is managing it / acquired the funding. This would make you a Research Associate and your position is pretty much tied to this person who manages the funding and I would not be surprised if he/she is the last author of the publications.

At the same time, Level B is the appointment level for a Lecturer in an academic position, teaching only (quite rare) or combined teaching & research (most probable). At this appointment, where you are also expected to teach throughout the semester, you are part of the operating fund of the School - Faculty and you will not have someone as a direct supervisor except the Head of School. You will probably have others in the same broad area of expertise but not someone as the PI in the previous case.

Also levels are used mainly for salary and promotions. Your initial appointment is at Level A, Step 6 (A6) and each year you move one step to A7 and A8. After that you have to apply for a promotion and move to Level B.

These are, in a broad sense, the dynamics of level B appointments (you are either "research" or "academic") and this will probably define authorship.

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    I think the important thing for OP to understand is that moving from level A to B does not necessarily change your 'job title'. An experienced postdoc can move from A to B but still be a postdoc while another person could be appointed to level B with a continuing position - both at level B but both on very different career trajectories at that point in time. – user49483 May 3 '15 at 0:10
  • This is a good answer, so to clarify, if I progressed to something like a level C continuing appointment academic, even though my "supervisor" would probably be a professor, in most cases I would have my own lab, and hence receive last author instead of the my official supervisor, who likely holds an official "professor" title? So generally, continuing academics have their "own lab" similar to the United States? – daaxix May 3 '15 at 1:45
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    You won't progress from a level A or B postdoc to a level C continuing appointment - you'd need to be hired for a continuing position appointed at level C. It's not much different to how postdocs in the USA don't progress from a postdoc to a tenure track job - they apply for and are hired for a tenure track position. Think of a postdoc in Australia as a postdoc in the USA and a continuing position in Australia as a tenure track position in the USA - they are two very different things. Levels don't directly relate to job permanency (e.g. a level B could be continuing and a level C contract). – user49483 May 3 '15 at 2:20
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    Part1. @daaxix I still think you are missing the point. As o4tlulz says you can be appointed at level C if you show sufficient ability but you won't rise step by step until all of a sudden you find yourself at level C - in the same way that a postdoc in the US isn't going to find themselves smoothly transitioning into a tenure track position. That isn't how the academic levels/steps work. Of course if you showed sufficient ability you could be appointed at level C if such an opening arose, but this is analogous to a postdoc applying for a tenure track position in the USA. – user49483 May 4 '15 at 8:43
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    Part2. If you were appointed at level C it's very unlikely you'd be still be working under a professor - if a university hires a level C to do research then they would expect that person is able to conduct independent research/run their own lab (otherwise they'd just hire somebody who could). So really I feel this is much ado about nothing - the systems really aren't as different as you seem to think they are. A typical progression in Australia is postdoc -> fellowship (or two) (normally start a small group) -> continuing job offer at level B or C (start a bigger group) -> move up levels – user49483 May 4 '15 at 8:50

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