I understand that postdocs can be too busy to even sleep, but if we put this aside - would US school allow a postdoc (full time appointment) having his/her own business in spare time? If so, what kind of regulation is applied here? Also, would the mentor be annoyed/alerted by this kind of planning?

I guess the field of the business also matters. For example, if the business is related with research the postdoc is doing, it is probably highly restricted; while being a landlord is something completely different.

Any thought? Thank you in advance.

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    You need to give at least your country. For example, in Germany the respective rules can be found under "Nebeneinkünfte" and can be pretty complicated (but, as far as I know, do not incorporate the type of buisiness). – Dirk Jan 6 '17 at 23:04
  • Thanks @Dirk . I'm asking for US situations, but I do agree that the situations can be complicated and should be avoided if possible. – Helene Jan 7 '17 at 0:30
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    I know in my university (in the US) there is pretty strict rules on what you can do outside work as a university employee. You should really consult with your department chair or ethics office (or something like that) for more info. – Drecate Jan 7 '17 at 1:33

We try not to give legal advice on this forum, so the legal question of whether or not (and if so how) you can have a business on the side is one that you probably need to ask a potential employer.

But I do want to comment on a separate point. As you point out, being a postdoc is a tiring phase of your life. In essence, people who want to be postdocs do so because they aspire to getting faculty positions in their next career step. I suspect that that is the same for you.

The reason why being a postdoc is so tiring is because you're competing with others for these few faculty positions: it's not necessarily that your job description requires you to work 60 hours a week, but that you feel like you need to because you see all of these other postdocs crank out 3 or 4 papers a year, and these other postdocs are your competition. So, if you are thinking of running a business on the side, then you need to be aware of the fact that that curtails your productivity compared to other postdocs, and that that in itself curtails your chances to get a faculty positions because you will have less to show on your CV.

If you know that your chances of getting a faculty position will be significantly diminished, and you still keep your side business, then you ought to ask yourself why you want to become a postdoc.

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    While possibly true, this seems like an extremely unhealthy atmosphere. If I thought I had several years ahead of me doing 60 hours a week and pretending it's my own idea when it's actually just the unannounced standard of the field, I wouldn't want to become a postdoc. I also wouldn't advise anyone else to be a postdoc ever. At least in my view, what your answer boils down to is "Don't be a postdoc." I also suspect it is field-specific, isn't it? – sgf Jan 8 '17 at 14:15
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    I don't know. I think it's just fine to want to be a postdoc if you are driven and motivated and want to compete with the best in your field. It all comes down to what you value in your life: if the competition and being among the best in your field is important to you, then this can be a very rewarding career choice. The same is the case if you aspire to eventually be in upper management of a company. If your overarching goal is to have a work-life balance, then maybe postdoc is not for you (though of course compromises can be made). – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 8 '17 at 18:21
  • Thank you @WolfgangBangerth and thisismynamenow for the kind answer and comments. I almost unexpectedly got a grant that support me to be a postdoc for two years, while I was originally already settled to concentrate on my business. I will need sometime to make a decision. Thank you. – Helene Jan 9 '17 at 17:27
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    A postdoc who is looking into the decision of business vs. academia may not have the same pressure to compete as someone who knows they want a professorship. That is, for what I've seen so far, the competition is less about the postdoc positions than about becoming group leader or professor. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 10 '17 at 14:11
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    @WolfgangBangerth: a) OP already considers a (side) business. Thus, even not pursuing this option is a decision between business and academia. b) Personally, I found small side-business + full-time postdoc very beneficial. The side business made me basically insensitive to the drawbacks of fixed term contracts, IMHO a decided advantage in academic contract negotiations. But I like research and therefore don't want career in academia - and I see harsh competition (and even nepotism) about permanent contracts and professorships in my field, postdoc positions are much easier. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 12 '17 at 13:35

Typically, in the US, a postdoc's employment contract specifies that the postdoc must get permission to have additional employment.

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    But this doesn't answer what happens if the OP has her own business, i.e., isn't an employee. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 8 '17 at 1:17
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    Someone who operates their own business has additional employment. It is no different. Another way to put is "outside work." – Anonymous Physicist Jan 8 '17 at 1:30
  • Formally, we have a similar rule (ask employer for permission) here in Germany. However, legally the employer is allowed to refuse the permission only in rather specific circumstances. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 10 '17 at 14:04

Answer for Germany, based on my experience:

  • Legal: employees need to inform the employer, but the employer must grant permission unless they have specific grounds to restrict a side business.
    An obvious rule that you cannot start competition with your employer. However, as most universities and at least basic research institutes do not offer their services on the market, this is often unproblematic even if your side business is related to your research. Applied research institutes who offer industry services would be different - but then they may be interested in having a spin off, see below. When I formally asked for permission at my (Leibniz) research institute, they just pointed out that I need to take care not to violate the maximum working hour laws and that it stays small enough side business to not hamper my performance working for them.

  • Whether a university/research institute is happy or annoyed with this depends on circumstances.

    • They may be very happy if your research leads to a spin-off. There are even funding programs to help with founding university spin-offs. They'd sell this as a huge success, even better than a bunch of patents, and worth many papers.
    • In my experience, they are often less happy if your business is totally unrelated to the research, say, you're computer scientist running a grocery store side business (they cannot list that as achievement as they'd try to with, say, a software spin-off).
    • I'd expect "landlord" to be relatively neutral.
  • You'll have to be careful about IP rights. E.g. over here an employment contract usually means that whatever software you write, as long as it would be useful for your employer they automatically get the commercial rights.
    So you may need to negotiate changes in your employment contract.

  • Thank you @cbeleites for the reply. Very helpful insights, especially where you mentioned institutes can be welcoming to a spin-off. I will look into that. Appreciate it. – Helene Jan 9 '17 at 17:32

I take issue with the idea a postdoc has to work 60+ hours to be successful. I actually think that is ridiculous. Spending hour upon hour in the lab doesn't mean your experiments will work or you will find something publishable. Doing the "right" experiment is what matters, not just spending tons of hours doing experiments. Have a life, have a family, start a company. When you sit down to do your postdoc work, think very carefully about your question, think through your experiments, make sure you picked the most efficient and feasible method and then go for it.

  • There is more to any academic position than "spending hour upon hour in the lab". Few academics (successful ones anyway) get away with a time-boxed schedule. It is a profession, not a job. – Buffy Apr 3 '20 at 14:37
  • I just don't agree. That is the culture, so we think it is required, but it isn't. This is a throw back from the time only old dudes had this job and house wives raised the family. I did grad school with two kids and postdoc with three. I don't work weekends, nights or holidays. I love science and I am good at it, but IT IS NOT MY LIFE. Success doesn't come from living for science, it's about focusing on the lab when you are there. Step one to having more women in science is to throw the "science or personal life" idea in the trash. – cup4sale Apr 4 '20 at 14:49

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