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Ads for postdocs in Sweden appear to always have a rule like PhD degree obtained preferable not longer than three-five years ago:

Example 1, 2. I've seen it many times in the past but job opening links are particularly temporary.

Is this to protect people from becoming career postdocs? Is it a requirement from a funding agency? Or is it just a habit?

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    This is not specifically a Swedish thing (at least in math, I have seen such a clause as part of most postdoc postings). That said, it is entirely possible that there are also some Swedish laws coming into play here, since as far as I have been told, postdocs are a bit special compared to other temporary positions in Sweden, which usually have some more restrictions than a postdoc might. – Tobias Kildetoft Jan 26 '17 at 15:50
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    Maybe they also want to "give a chance" to younger researchers who won't have to compete with someone who already have five additional years' worth of research on their CV? – user9646 Jan 26 '17 at 16:13
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    @gerrit Your suggestion that it's to protect people from becoming career postdocs sounds rather altruistic too... – user9646 Jan 26 '17 at 16:33
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    @gerrit So did I...?! – user9646 Jan 26 '17 at 20:51
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    @gerrit perhaps if someone is still looking for post-doc positions after 5 years, they are not cut out for academic life. I don't really know these things but the logical implication is that a bunch of people have wasted the last 15 years of their lives must be painful to some. – emory Jan 26 '17 at 22:03
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I don't know about Sweden, but in the US there seems to be increasing mood in Universities to end, or at least not contribute to, the "perpetual postdoc" cycle. I don't know that there is real pressure from the funding sources, so much as a tough love from community leaders to stop taking advantage of a relatively cheap labor source by dangling prospects of academic success over them.

For example, our policy is to keep the total postdoc tenure to 5 years. If you come in having done a 3-year postdoc, that leaves you with two more years here. After this time limit is reached, the lab has to find means to fund you as an employee on the scientific staff if they want to keep you around.

Not all faculty love this, and some point out that by nature of some fields, postdocs tend to be longer. For example, if you're recording from single neurons and need a large data set, this can take forever. Despite such arguments, I haven't heard of any cases where the time limit has been waived.

The postdocs are not necessarily hung out to dry. We have a number of programs designed to help them find satisfying employment.

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As they told you, this is not specific to Sweden but happens often, particularly with funding. After a number of years after your Masters, you are not eligible to get a PhD grant, and after a number of years after your PhD, you are not eligible to get a postdoc grant. I would say that's the general rule, written or not.

Reasons? The benevolent rationale I suppose is that after a relatively long time doing something else you might have deviated too much from academia/research and it takes time and money to get you back in track, so they'd rather spend it in a just-graduated that can be 100% productive since day 1.

The malevolent rationale is, well, actually the same one: after some time in the job market, you might actually be much more adult, independent, self-confident, and have built a reputation that allows you to speak up to your boss or find another job any time. Bottom line: much less submissive. Unfortunately, that's not exactly the kind of spirit that many research labs want... as often a postdoc is not considered much differently than an "older PhD student".

  • "independent, self-confident, and have built a reputation that allows you to speak up to your boss" - what industry position wants those qualities? It seems to me like those are exactly the "soft skills" that you gather early on during your doctoral candidacy, and that you have to work hard to suppress in order to "fit in" once you leave academia heading for industry. – O. R. Mapper Aug 1 '17 at 18:31
  • Certainly, we have very different experiences. In industry I have always seen much less need to fit in and you are valued by your skills much more than in academia. In academia, leaving a lab or quitting a PhD/postdoc is seen as a betrayal and people are much more submissive. Just check PhD comics or the many questions of worried students on this site. Changing jobs often an tough salary negotiations are the norm in industry. Just try to do that in academia and see where it leads you.. – Pablo Aug 1 '17 at 21:26
  • "In academia, leaving a lab or quitting a PhD/postdoc is seen as a betrayal" - huh? That sounds like a typical industry thing to me, too. It's industry where people are secretive about intending to leave a job until the very day they have handed in their resignation letter. It's industry where leaving a job is seen as some kind of betrayal, precisely because you kind of turn your back on the previous employer and pledge your loyalty to someone else. Academia couldn't be more different in that respect; switching labs at some point is a normal fact of one's career progress and the ... – O. R. Mapper Aug 1 '17 at 21:36
  • ... intention is freely communicated months in advance, without any fear of getting fired for a lack of loyalty. Likewise, leaving a job does not at all mean cutting all ties there; indeed, moving on to another post is always a great opportunity for the previous lab to expand their network of collaborating institutions - and for the job-switching lab member, an opportunity to bring some new collaboration contacts into their new job. If you have observed anything else, indeed we must have very different experiences. – O. R. Mapper Aug 1 '17 at 21:39
  • Great. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have seen you comment my answers often. It would be really helpful for posters if you devoted the same amount of effort and detail to answering their original questions.. – Pablo Aug 1 '17 at 22:10

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