I got an offer for a tenure-track assistant professor position in USA, Department of Engineering. The university national ranking is between 35th and 65th at the US News website. I was offered a single PhD, fully supported for 2 years (partial support for the remaining 3 years) and then I was asked how much I need for equipment. I have two questions:

  1. Should I ask for a second PhD or a post-doc (I think for 1 year)? Some people told me to get a PhD since supervising a post-doc does not really count much for getting Tenure, while it matters a lot if one is mentoring PhDs. Other people say: get a Post-doc, he/she will be much more productive and he/she will get you papers out fast, and your mentoring effort will be on the PhD. What is your suggestion?

  2. I am actually also debating if I should also try to ask for a third person (in that case surely a PhD) since I am not asking too much money as for equipment (just computing cores in the supercomputer). And I need workforce since I have various good research ideas. Would I sound too greedy?

So basically, should I ask for a total of 3 persons (2 PhDs + 1 post-doc or rather 3 PhDs?) or 2 persons (2PhDs or rather 1 Phd + 1 Post-Doc?)?

  • 4
    Get the postdoc. The postdoc is what will lower your stress. You know the phrase popular among women in grad school? "I need a wife"? Researchers needs a postdoc. (I don't mean to say it's not a symbiotic relationship between professor and postdoc.) Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 13:36
  • (Jokingly) How much money do you want to save?
    – CKM
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 16:15
  • 1
    Mmm what do you mean with " How much money do you want to save?" I dont get the joke...
    – Millemila
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 17:34
  • @Lupocci - I would guess CMosychuk meant that a postdoc gets a higher salary than a PhD student. But if you really want an answer, you have to get the person's attention as follows: Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 0:10
  • @CMosychuk - Did I get your idea right? Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 0:11

3 Answers 3


There are a number of factors to consider.

PhD students take an indeterminate amount of time to finish. Committing yourself to getting funding to cover the last "few" years for 2 or 3 PhD students is a stress you may not want your first year.

The cost to a department of a PhD student and Post doc can be vastly different. In some cases a PhD student means allocating a student from a general pool directly to you, such that there is no change in the schools budget. In other cases the stipend, tutuion, and fees all show up on the school budget. In other cases the number of PhD students may be limited (e.g., the department may not attract lots of good students) in which case a PhD student is way more "expensive" then a post doc. You ideally want to ask for whatever is cheapest (which includes money and political capital), for the department.

Another thing to consider is what is typical for a startup package. Also what can you justify. Often startup package negotiations are between the department chair and the dean. While it may seem like you are negotiatin with the chair, you are often equipping them with the information to battle the dean on your behalf.

  • The info you shared looks helpful. But there's a big advantage to a postdoc, see my answer. Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 0:11

The advantage of a postdoc is that s/he is more independent, so you invest less and gain more. Also a postdoc can help you set up a lab, if you are going to have a lab. If there are experiments that require having someone in the lab at odd hours, you can take turns covering -- that can be a big plus. And you may publish some papers together -- that will help you both build your careers.

If you had asked, one postdoc or one (or two) PhD students, that would be trickier to advise on, without a lot more information. But in your situation, you get the fun of a PhD student regardless of which scenario you go with.

  • Thanks. Is it true that mentoring post-doc does not matter for tenure?
    – Millemila
    Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 16:45

You should ask the department chair. As StrongBad said, the department chair will want to negotiate with administration to bring as many resources as possible into the department. The chair can help you figure out what resources you can get. The chair can also tell you about the importance of PhD supervision to your tenure case.

Random people on the internet do not know your institution's goals and funding situation. The department chair does know.

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