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I'm a postdoc in Europe on a one year contract, where the renewal is not necessarily guaranteed. When I was interviewed, I was told that the his grant was for a year, and whether it'd renew would depend on the results of his next grant application. After my mentor hired me and things were confirmed, I noticed at least two other advertisements posted by him looking for postdocs, even with slightly increased salary. When I eventually talked to him about renewal, his response was: "I'd first like to work with you and see how you do". When I was hired by him, I was already in my third year of postdoc, and indeed in a top school in the US. Several times he had reminded me that the time is limited-one year, and pushed me to work fast.

Based on the above, I suspect that it's not the case that he doesn't have funding. Questions: Is he telling me lies? Is what he's doing a standard thing to do? I ask this, because I find this rather sketchy and selfish-the mentor wants to divide the money in more than one postdocs to maximize the publications as quickly as possible, but it really doesn't give the postdoc a stability. As you see, I cannot ask him directly about the follow-up advertisements, because obviously he'd say it's none of my business. I think I understand his view-he doesn't want to take a risk, but given that I was already a senior postdoc at a top 20 US school, was productive, switched to something very related and was the first choice for this postdoc position, I don't find a basis for his hesitation.

I'd very much appreciate your opinion and reflection on this topic. I bolded the questions so that there's no confusion of what I want the answer to.

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    "but given that I was already a senior postdoc at a top US school, I don't find a basis for his hesitation": Being able to perform well in a group does not guarantee that you will perform well in another group. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 5 '17 at 11:07
  • And I completely agree with you (upvoted). But the question is really about his hiding facts. Regarding your comment though, I switched my postdoc research area to something very much related to what I was doing before, and also I was his first choice for the position-not that I had to wait till the most preferred applicant canceled. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 11:10
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    I cannot ask him directly about the follow-up advertisements, because obviously he'd say it's none of my business — Sure, he can say that it's none of your business, but he'd be wrong. Have you considered applying to the better-paying postdoc yourself? – JeffE Jan 5 '17 at 15:16
  • @JeffE: I'm considering it for sure, but this position has just started 2 months ago. I'm definitely on the lookout for industrial positions as well. But a better paying postdoc would be good too. I do thank you for your sympathetic comment! Coming from a professor himself, it means even more to me. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 15:20
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    Europe is not a homogeneous blob; which country in Europe? Things work very differently in different countries. – Jack Aidley Jan 5 '17 at 16:35
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I find "I'd first like to work with you and see how you do" perfectly reasonable and that's probably his actual position on this issue. What he said during the interview ("depend on the results of his next grant application") is probably also true, just not the whole truth. He wanted you to accept the position after all. As you know, until a contract is signed you have nothing.

Try setting up regular feedback meetings so that you know "how you do" and can try to improve your performance (and his perception of it) and can adjust your search for the next position accordingly.

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    I'd agree with you (upvoted). I'm indeed meeting him 1-2 times a week, and giving him updates. But my question is not about that. The question is really about his hiding facts-why would he say that he doesn't have funding while interviewing me, and less than a month after that, still would post to seek more postdocs (it means he does have funding, but hiding the facts)? It's an example of how terribly postdocs are treated in academia. As much as I understand that he'd like to do a test-working with me, I don't appreciate being told lies. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 12:04
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    You don't put all eggs into one basket. His strategy of diversifying is sound from his perspective. That's how the game is played. He apparently said he doesn't have funding for you at the moment. Some of these positions might also be project related and incompatible with the timeline of your current project or your skill set. Have you asked his opinion on you applying for one of the better payed positions? – Roland Jan 5 '17 at 12:12
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    I get it, that's how the game is played, except the game doesn't do justice to postdocs in academia, it only protects the postdoc mentors from spending money for a postdoc for no reason. And no, I didn't (and I won't). I talked to him several times, and found he's all about research and not about the person(this I'm not going to explain, being irrelevant). The game must be fair. When someone's hiring anyone,it's obvious and well-known I can leave anytime I want. When I get a better paid position, I'm off. At least I didn't lie-never promised I'd stay for a year. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 12:24
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    Anyone can (and does) leave for better positions. You are not an indentured servant. But from what you write I get the impression that you are not a good fit for his working style. It might be better for both of you if you looked elsewhere. I know it's hard, but try not to take it personally. That is never productive. – Roland Jan 5 '17 at 12:29
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    That's a very good and supportive comment. I'm looking elsewhere, indeed including industry (my work is in applied areas). I'd not complain though, if he'd have been honest saying that, he didn't want to take the risk of hiring a postdoc for more than a year, and he could give me funding after a year if I did well. He clearly lied. He said he didn't have funding (he didn't say funding for me). Yet he posted for postdocs. Once I signed the contract, he said he'd like to test-work. I agree with you that this is counter-productive grudging about it, but I find his treatment dishonest. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 12:35
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From what you explained, I don't see anything particularly unethical or unusual going on. Let's go over things:

I was told that the his grant was for a year, and whether it'd renew would depend on the results of his next grant application. After my mentor hired me and things were confirmed, I noticed at least two other advertisements posted by him looking for postdocs

I am not sure what your mentor hiring other postdocs has to do with your contractual obligation. Maybe your mentor has multiple projects? Maybe the grant that he uses to pay you also pays for additional postdocs? All of this does not mean that your mentor could have also used the funding to give you a longer contract immediately, even if he wanted to.

That being said, even is he could have given you a longer contract but chose not to, I am not sure why you would be angry about this. It's not that the conditions of the job were not made clear to you when you took the job.

As you see, I cannot ask him directly about the follow-up advertisements, because obviously he'd say it's none of my business.

You are aware that he is completely right about this? It is in fact none of your business, and has no bearings on your contractual obligation.

When I eventually talked to him about renewal, his response was: "I'd first like to work with you and see how you do". I find this rather sketchy and selfish

Well, I don't. To be frank, "let's see if I have funding" is often code for "let's see if you are worth spending valuable funding on". Strictly speaking, your mentor maybe did not tell you the whole truth, but it's not far off, and it seems naive of you to assume that your ongoing employment will not also depend on your performance in addition to the availability of funding.

When I was hired by him, I was already in my third year of postdoc, and indeed in a top school in the US.

I am not sure why this would matter to your mentor. If at all, the fact that you are already in your fourth year as a postdoc would mean that your mentor assumes that you don't need a long contract, as you would likely be off to a faculty position soon anyway.

it really doesn't give the postdoc a stability.

As I am also a postdoc, I completely understand this point. However, it is important to recognise that postdoc positions are not designed to be stable, longterm contracts. Fundamentally, if you want stability, you will need to find a permanent faculty or scientist position. It is not the fault of your mentor that your expectations are not in line with how the position you applied for is commonly understood.

Somewhat cynically, I am also not sure why you are even worried - you seem extremely confident in your own skills and the availability of funding, to the extent that you are mad at your mentor for not committing to you many years in advance. If that is the case, why do you even worry so much that your contract will not be extended?

Questions: Is he telling me lies? Is what he's doing a standard thing to do?

TLDR: He may or may not be telling you the full truth, but I don't consider his behavior unusual or unethical. Again: did you really assume that your contract renewal only depends on the funding situation, and not at all on how well you do in the first year?

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    It is in fact none of your business — Strongly disagree. "Why are you paying me less than you are advertising for other postdocs?" is absolutely OP's business. – JeffE Jan 5 '17 at 15:17
  • Thanks again and agree! I personally feel some (a lot of?) postdocs are being scapegoat because they have no other choices for the moment, and the mentor can do whatever they want to with them. – Science Man Jan 5 '17 at 15:46
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Is he telling me lies?

From what you've written, no. I could not spot any straight lie. You see that there is more money for post-docs in the group, but that does not imply that this money may be available for your position. Grant money is for specific projects and our boss may have specific plans for the projects. Maybe he already has candidates but he has to post an advertisement by some law (that's how it is for some positions in Germany). Maybe he is looking for somebody with some specific background that you don't have?

Also, he hired you for one specific project, also probably because he thinks that your expertise fits well for this project and he does not want you to work on the other projects. Moreover, pushing you to work fast may be due the fact that the project time is running out and he needs results to prepare a report for the project and he needs results to write a follow-up proposal (both things seem highly likely). Note that there is a difference between "I don't have funding for you." and "A renewal of the contract depends on the outcome of the grant proposal."

Is what he's doing a standard thing to do?

Actually, neither you nor me does really know what he is doing. He probably leads a larger group pursuing different lines of research and this is more complex than many people think. Planning ahead is important and not easy with lots of uncertainty about both funding and available manpower. What is standard, is that people are hired for projects and that project contracts are limited contracts. What is also standard, is that hiring includes some "probation period" (may it be official by law or by contract or only informally) and renewals are discussed timely but not too early. So keeping employees on limited contracts in suspense for some time is pretty usual.

What you can do, is to ask about an appropriate time when he will discuss opportunities for renewals with you. Note that he also may not offer a renewal right away since he expects that you will move on to another position in the near future.

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Similar to other commenters, I saw no direct indication of him lying to you. Whether it is a standard thing to do or not is hard to tell as some additional information needed. For example, how large is his group, i.e. how many postdocs, PhD students? Specifically, if his group is large (2-3+ postdocs, 5-6+ PhD students, etc) then, I say, his behaviour is pretty standard. Parallel advertisements would be then for other projects which are within his group's research directions. He may have one particular research direction well covered (by, say, some grant recently obtained) for next few years and only limited amount of money available for research direction of yours.

Imo, parallel advertisements are of your business. However, your real concern is renewal of your fellowship and this is the real topic on which you should ask to be promptly updated by your mentor. In particular, info on continuation/non-continuation of your contract should come to you at least three months before the current end date.

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