I have been involved in a postodoctoral program for 7 months and I progressively discovered that my advisor is really bad from a scientific standpoint. By working hard, I got to submit two papers which relate to his area of research but now it looks like he is unable to go on and to suggest me new meaningful directions to work on. Luckily I do have my reserch network and I keep working with other people and producing publications and I was also offered another position to which I will transit in a few months. However, my current advisor, who knows I'll be leaving soon, keeps pushing me to work on something with him without proposing anything worth. So my question is, how can I deal with that during the time left here? Thanks!

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    A postdoc should be able to propose their own ideas within the scope of their advisor's interests. You should definitely work on things which benefit your employer until your contract ends. But you should not be relying on your advisor to set the detailed direction of your work when you have reached the postdoctoral level. May 22, 2016 at 23:54
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    I see, but what if the field of his interest is quite new to me? Also, when I accepted this position, I was told that there was a project behind, and that's why I accepted. However, since I am here, I never heard anything meaningful honestly.
    – Jack
    May 22, 2016 at 23:57
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    "my advisor is really bad from a scientific standpoint" - In what way is he "bad"?
    – ff524
    May 22, 2016 at 23:58
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    He's unable to do research in the field of my expertise. When he described me his research, before I joined this position, he sent me some papers in which he's author, but then he's unable to discuss the results and the methods therein!
    – Jack
    May 23, 2016 at 0:01
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    OK, let me restate my question then. What is the role of a postdoctoral advisor? Thanks!
    – Jack
    May 23, 2016 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


It sounds like you are having a hard time making the transition from knowledge consumer to knowledge producer. While it is nice to get additional training as a post-doc, by this time you are the expert and you should be driving your research efforts, not your post-doc supervisor. In fact, you may be on the post-doc precisely because your area of expertise is different than that of your supervisor, and he may be looking at you wondering why you aren't proposing research.

The fix is simple but not easy:

  1. Change your mindset to that of an independent researcher. You are an expert and a professional now, and your research is your responsibility.
  2. Take the work from your dissertation, and develop a plan to expand on and/or publish that research.
  3. Discuss integrating your research into the remaining post-doc.

Like I said, simple but not easy. There are many people who may be able to help you in this, including your PhD advisor and your post-doc supervisor. The process is going to be highly individualized, but is critical to your progress as an independent scholar, so do not delay.

  • Basically I am already working along the lines of points 1 and 2 here above. The point is that he wants me work on something that he does not even know, that is the main point. I am not complaining about not having ideas to work on, as I said I have a bunch of ideas of my field of research and I have been producing papers through those. Thanks for replying anyway!
    – Jack
    May 23, 2016 at 0:41
  • Sorry it wasn't helpful. I may not have exactly understood the problem. I'll leave this up, for now as the problem I'm describing may be helpful to others. May 23, 2016 at 1:01
  • I think you should take care to do some research which is different from your dissertation as well. Flexibility is important to future job market success. May 23, 2016 at 1:09
  • I totally agree with you Anonymous Physicists and in fact I worked hard to produce new results in the research area related to my current appointment. But I am not getting what is the role of a postdoctoral advisor if he is not able to provide me with new ideas in his area of research. I do fundamental research and he is supposed to do applied research, so I thought the process was: he provides me with interesting applications then I work on those to produce fundamental ideas and so on so forth.
    – Jack
    May 23, 2016 at 1:21

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