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I'm soon handing in my PhD thesis, and have funding for at least a one year Post Doc position at the same institute. In my post doc I'll be working on research related, but not directly associated, with my PhD field of work.

My phd has been funded by a huge 'umbrella' project involving both academic and industry institutions, and domain specific partners. My Phd supervisor is also the project leader on this big project. The project has quite a distinct profile and has attracted a fair amount of public attention.

So...moving on to my dilemma.

Yesterday my supervisor phoned me up, and asked me if I was interested in taking over a part time position as project coordinator for this big project as the current coordinator is moving on to another job. According to him, some of the administrative tasks would be transferred to other project members, but I was offered to manage a lot of the collaboration with project partners and, I'm guessing, play an important role in the final reporting when the project finishes.

I'm uncertain to what extent taking on such a role would affect a potential academic career. Would it be beneficial in the long run to acquire experience in managing projects, or would it look more like I was 'degraded' to a secretary-'like' role?

As far as I understand, both my supervisor, and our institute director, would like me to assume the role. I guess this both gives me some leverage...but also puts me in a potential pinned down situation if I decline.

Their estimate is that the project coordination tasks would take up roughly 25% of my time. So there would still be time to do research.

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  • As far as I understand, both my supervisor, and our institute director, would like me to assume the role. — My guess would be that, since you are being asked to take on this role, you have already done a fair amount of tasks related to project coordination. Is that true?
    – Mad Jack
    Aug 19, 2015 at 13:36
  • Yes, I have five years of experience from industry, not directly as a project manager, but as a product manager. So it would be within my current skillset.
    – tschmitty
    Aug 19, 2015 at 13:42

4 Answers 4

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In the comments above, I asked whether OP had any experience performing project coordination tasks similar to that of the position under consideration. OP's reply:

Yes, I have five years of experience from industry, not directly as a project manager, but as a product manager. So it would be within my current skillset.

You have obtained one answer here which emphasizes the benefits of gaining this sort of experience. However, it doesn't sound like that answer is applicable to you (though, you would probably know better than us whether this experience would truly be worth it, or if you would just end up doing stuff you already know how to do).

Let's review where you are, at this critical stage in your career:

  • You are just now wrapping up your PhD.
  • You are getting ready to start a transitional postdoc.
  • You seem to be interested in pursuing an academic career.
  • You have already gained project management/coordination experience from working in industry.

To my mind, all of the above points to one conclusion:

You telling your PI/institute director "no, thanks."

Instead of taking on the coordination tasks, I recommend that you use all of your time in "postdoc mode" working on the things that will strengthen your research profile: producing high-quality research output, finishing up manuscripts, defining your research agenda, growing your network of collaborators, etc.

When you begin to apply for academic jobs at the next level, or for other postdoc positions after the transitional one ends, you will already be able to play up your ability to coordinate complex projects. So, I don't really see the benefits of playing the project coordinator role right now. The downside of taking that coordinator role on, however, is the main concern: I think it would interfere too much with all of the other important things you should be focusing on at this critical stage of your career.

(And, let's face it, spending 25% of your time on project coordination tasks for a large project, with lots of moving parts, is probably a very conservative estimate.)

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If you approach the coordinator role in a pro-active fashion (organizing meetings, collecting input from the various partners, making sure that everybody hands in their contribution on time), there is certainly value in the experience you will gain.

Maybe not so much related to hard-core research, but as you progress in your academic career, project management skills will be more and more important. And therefore, if you can get some experience early in your career, you might benefit from that later, and prospective employers might look at it in this way (or might be neutral in the worst case).

Just be sure that you manage your time well, and also reserve enough time to perform real research (unless you aspire to become a (scientific) project manager).

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I agree with @MadJack .

I think they are trying to save money and have one person pursue both a post doc and perform the administrative work. I wouldn't accept such a position if my final plan was an academic career.

Keep in mind that the administrator role is a full-time position, and a post doc is another full time position (where normally 24h/day do not feel enough). Trying to manage these two roles simultaneously will end up with you being overly stressed and focusing mainly on the administrative stuff that will have shorter deadlines than your post doc goals.

You can accept probably to help for a couple of months until they hire a proper administrator but not for your entire post doc.

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Chances are your PI and institute director are trying to solve their problem and selling it to you as a win-win. They may even do this with the best intentions, but it is up to you if it is indeed also a win for you - and only you can decide.

First, imagine you would say no. You will get to carry out the work you planned as intended and not win any brownie points. What are the pros and cons of that?

Second, imagine you would say yes. Why would you say yes?

Would you LIKE to do it? Sometimes a decision may not even look like it's in your best interest on paper, but if you enjoy the work and it brings you happiness or satisfaction then that alone might be reason enough to do it.

How will the work benefit you in the near and distant future? Is the network useful? Will these contacts be your close peers and future collaborators? In other words, is it worth it for you to invest in this task and topic and the people associated with it?

What's in it for you? If you tell your PI and institute director that you are seriously considering it but you think you already have relevant experience, can they give you another argument that you somehow missed?

Can you negotiate that your contract is extended for the time you will spend as a coordinator? This may buy you a couple of months more reasearch/thinking time and could be a good trade off?

In other words, don't sell your skin too cheap! One thing is for sure, whoever needs work done will always underestimate the amount of time it will take someone to do the job, so you can bet that their 25% is a conservative estimate!

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