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I'm a postdoctoral fellow working on computer science. I've been a postdoc for one year and three months so far, and I think my job will last for three years in total.

Thinking about the future, I suppose I'll apply for a second postdoc position after this, in another university or scientific research institute. But some days ago I met a colleague of mine who is in her third postdoc year, and she said that at the end of the year she will start to apply for some permanent position, such as research associate or principal investigator. I was quite surprised because I always thought that a second postdoc position was normal in our computer science field.

So my question is: after a first postdoc period of three years, should you apply for a second postdoc position or for a permanent position?

What is the best choice for you?

And how do you understand if you should apply for a second postdoc position or a permanent position?

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    At least in math, it depends your CV at the time and what kind of job you want. In any case, many people apply for both. What do your senior colleagues suggest? – Kimball Nov 16 '15 at 15:33
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    You should apply for both permanent positions and additional postdoc positions! Why discard options before you know what your options are? – JeffE Nov 16 '15 at 16:13
  • What Jeff said. Also I am wondering which field of computer science this is? I can name a number of people in theoretical computer science who got tenure track jobs right out of graduate school. Ask your mentor and letter writers about how they see your chances. – Sasho Nikolov Nov 16 '15 at 21:11
  • Much depends on your publication list, your teaching experience, how ambitious you are, and whether your specific expertise happens to be the puzzle piece that fits in the niche a department happens to have. – aparente001 Nov 18 '15 at 7:56
  • I think that you should go for some permanent job instead of a second postdoc, because people like you are needed by many universities as teachers – user48537 Feb 1 '16 at 5:51
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This can vary greatly by subfield, country, etc., so there's no universal answer to whether a second postdoc is necessary or a good idea. People typically make the decision based on several factors:

  1. You should ask your mentors (your postdoctoral advisor, Ph.D. advisor, and other faculty you know) for advice. They can offer insight that takes into account both your accomplishments so far and the job market you will be applying in.

  2. You should compare yourself with other people you know who have gotten jobs recently. Making these sorts of comparisons is tricky, so you shouldn't take this too seriously, but it will give you a feeling for where you might stand. If your colleagues regularly get permanent positions after three years with accomplishments like yours, then you should try applying for such jobs too. If they don't, then you shouldn't expect to be so lucky yourself.

  3. Most people aren't quite certain, and they end up applying for a mixture of postdoctoral and permanent positions. That's fine, and it's counterproductive to focus 100% on one type of job unless you are sure the other would be unavailable or undesirable.

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I will spell out the caveat first. Certain faculty positions clearly mention a minimum amount of post-doctoral research experience (e.g. two or three years) in their advertisement. If we are talking about these jobs, unless you satisfy that requirement, applying for these is not going to be very beneficial (unless they relax such criteria later for some reasons - maybe not enough candidates applied etc., and that's chiefly a textbook example of sorts).

In other cases, i.e. when you satisfy the minimum eligibility requirements for the jobs you are seeking, it is always sensible to keep applying for these while you are still in the middle of your first postdoc (this is as per your situation). At the same time, also keep yourself in the hunt for the next postdoctoral stint. This way, you are at least going to have a post-doctoral position (if not a faculty position) when this postdoc no.1 ends, and it is never a great idea not to have it this way. (More colloquially, at least you will have a decent current affiliation to declare while applying for other positions!) Also, since the ratio of successful applicants to usual total no. of applicants, in typical permanent faculty positions is not very impressive, you are giving yourself more shots at success this way, and that while you can still pay your bills! Of course, your candidature will keep improving with each post-doctoral stint too, which will be an added bonus.

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    This. There is a certain amount of luck involved in getting a faculty position--the right match has to be available when you're looking, the committee has to like your paperwork, and so on--so you should certainly apply for a few faculty positions even if you are also applying for further post-doctoral work. You'd hate to miss a long-term job that you would be satisfied with because you were completely focused on polishing your CV for the job you really want only to find that no jobs in the latter group are open when you need them. – dmckee Nov 16 '15 at 16:16
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Advantages of getting a "real" job, as opposed to another postdoc:

  • you get an earlier and stronger start in preparing for retirement (since the "real" job probably pays much better, and since the "real" job probably has better benefits in terms of the real job's institution contributing 10% of your salary towards retirement)

  • you don't have to move to a new city as many times

Advantages of doing another postdoc:

  • you have more time to build up your publication list, which can help you get tenure later

  • it can be very stressful to be teaching and establishing your research program at the same time, with the pressure of the tenure decision hanging over you

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