I am going to be finishing my PhD at a top-10 ranked US institution in the next 6 months in a biosciences related discipline. My advisor (and the lab in general) is extremely well known and well respected. I have been very productive in my current lab (10-15 papers in high-impact journals, many additional manuscripts in preparation, invitations to present at 5-10 conferences, and I am well known in the broader research community).

Upon graduation I may be geographically limited to stay in the same city. If I were not geographically limited I would, largely, be able to postdoc anywhere I wanted. This is not intended to sound arrogant, but I want to paint a picture (I have investigated the possibility with a few best case choices and all have responded favorably).

If I stay in the city, I am considering whether to remain with my current advisor or switch labs.

I have many reasons to stay in my current lab: I believe I will be very productive, the research direction is very appealing to me, I have a great relationship with my advisor, I have a lot of autonomy already and my advisor will help me move into a more independent position, and I have had and will continue to have opportunities to spend time at other labs around the world.

There is no one else in this city with whom I'm as excited about working.

However, I'm concerned that if I stay:

  • I would largely be perceived as a mini-version of my PI. This would hurt funding options in the short and long term (e.g. F32 awards, K-99 awards). Unclear how badly it would hurt them.
  • My work might all be perceived as my advisors work (though to be fair he is extremely good at explicitly crediting people)
  • I would not experience a new lab environment
  • It could be looked on as lazy/unimaginative
  • It might (would) hurt my ability to get a faculty position later

Is it possible for me to offset the future career damage associated with staying in the same lab between PhD. and postdoc by massive high-impact productivity? Or would my record still be "damaged" by staying in the same place, even if I was extremely productive there?


2 Answers 2


Massive productivity trumps essentially all considerations. If you're at one of the best universities around, then nobody can be mad at you for not wanting to step down on the ladder either. In other words, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

What I would worry about, both if I were in your place and if I were your PhD/postdoc adviser, is to make sure you develop a profile of your own over time, distinct from that of your adviser. That will mean starting to collaborate with others, writing papers with others and without your adviser, and/or applying for funding under your own name. As long as you make sure that it is clearly visible by the end of your postdoc that you're an independent researcher with your own ideas and identity, you will be fine.

  • 1
    Agree. 'Massive high impact productivity' trumps (we need a new word for 'trumps') pretty much everything. If it's clear you're independent you're gold.
    – HEITZ
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 1:05
  • 2
    Especially: publish at least some papers where you are the lead author and your advisor is not a coauthor. Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 7:09
  • I might emphasize the second paragraph, and go even further - you and your advisor have had specific roles (PhD student, advisor) for the last however many years. Now you need to switch, as quickly as possible, in to new roles (post-doc, mentor). That shift can be hard if you stay at the same institution, much less with the same advisor. If you stay, be very conscious and active in changing your roles.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 14:25

I believe that @WolfgangBangerth's answer adequately covers this regarding the perceptions of others. But there is another potential damage to your career, which is the lack of broadened horizons that you would get from working with a different person at a different institution. Sticking to just the perspectives and tools that your current advisor can teach you may have even more significant consequences than the external perception-related issues. Maybe there is some great problem that you will go on to solve -- IF you take the leap now of finding a new position where you will acquire the additional tools needed to address that problem.

In short, a new position almost always means a reduction in productivity for a time, but it often means a more impactful and satisfying career in the long term. When you get your first faculty position, you may feel obligated to stay in your niche for a few years in order to get tenure. It's often smarter to take advantage of the relative freedom you have now (with no tenure clock ticking) and pick up some new ideas by seeking a new position.

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