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I am not sure whether this question is suitable for academia, if not it would be great to know the site where I should ask this. I am a finishing Ph.D. student in Mathematics at a decent school in the US, and my postdoctoral job applications so far have gone in vein, although I do have published paper in recognized journal. Also, I had to switch my advisor and subject in the middle of my Ph.D., so I think I would have been better off with more experience in the field I am working on or a related field. That would mean even if I get a postdoc, I would feel a little bit inferior to other postdocs or might seek a little more help from my mentor.

I noticed the postings by some European Universities for postdocs where they mention that they are looking for postdocs and Ph.D. students both. Although I will be applying for postdocs in these universities, I was thinking of having your opinion on the following, somewhat irregular backup plan:

Say University U in Europe has a postdoc position P for salary x for 2 years, and Ph.D. position D for salary y for 4 years, where x>y. If I can get P, great, but if not, can I also talk to and try to come to an agreement with the university (e-mail them with explanation etc.) for a visiting position where I will be learning some more stuffs and will be researching as well, but may be with less salary than P but the same (or little more) salary as/than D? In other words, I feel like I need to gain more knowledge in my area, so if I don't get P, I will be happy with almost the same salary y as D, but will try to bend the rule from 4 years to just 1 year? So it will be like a visiting position with less salary, of less time period, but I will like to be treated like a Ph.D. student (that means less independent research, more learning compared to a postdoc). Will that be a ridiculous thing to try? So, I will be somewhat like an advanced Ph.D. student but not expert like a postdoc and so I am willing to negotiate with the salary, I won't need another Ph.D. since I will have had one(if they give another, fantastic!) Do you know whether it might work or create complications enough so that the hiring committee will be offended? Should I try to send an e-mail explaining this situation and see whether they will negotiate with me on this?

Thank you very much in advance!

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    I am not writing an answer, since I know about the US and not Europe, but I can't imagine this plan working. Generally, university bureaucracies treat postdocs and grad students very differently even though there is a fine line between them. – Ben Webster Mar 15 '13 at 2:31
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    I'd expect this plan to have significantly less chance of working in Europe than the US. – JeffE Mar 15 '13 at 3:25
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    @JeffE Why? I thought the difference would be smaller in Europe, because, at least in some countries, both PhD students and post-docs are employed. – gerrit Mar 15 '13 at 8:37
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    In continental Europe, a lot of postdoc/phd positions are directly under the professor, and don't so much involve a hiring committee per se. In those cases you may get some leeway (especially if the professor has reasons to know about you [friend of your advisor etc.]). For the more special fellowships or university positions where they have to go through a hiring committee, I'd imagine the committee to not be very impressed with this request. – Willie Wong Mar 15 '13 at 9:39
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In several European countries, for example Germany, Switzerland, or Austria, it will be possible to fill positions in part-time. Whether you then actually work only part-time or not is a different question. In these countries, there is in most cases not a big difference between PhD students and post-docs regarding organizational details of employment, or even salary on a full-time position.

So the way I see your plan possibly working is as follows: A professor has funding to employ someone full-time for 2 years. You could then try to argue that in addition to working on the particular project, you also need time to educate yourself further and get only a half-time position, but stretch that to 4 years. You may want to communicate that it still means that you are working or studying full-time on project-related topics. If the funding is flexible regarding the year when it is spent (which is sometimes, but not always, the case), then I'd guess you have good chances that people are willing to make that deal.

This plan is probably best discussed with the professor offering the position, informally before you apply for the position, or when you go for an interview.

  • Silvado, thank you for your answer, it does give me some hope. In the beginning of your second paragraph, you mentioned, I 'stretch it to 4 years', but that might be too long to stick to a lower-paying salary, and I think one more year will give me the platform that I need. So, can I not informally talk to the professor that I will work for low pay for 1 year and then for regular pay for another year (as a regular postdoc)? – Science Man Mar 16 '13 at 7:51
  • Also, sometimes the department post their positions, e.g. euro-math-soc.eu/node/3465. Here it seems like the US postdoc position, and no professor in particular gives the funding, the department gives it. So do you think, is there any way here I can communicate with the faculty I want to work with and tell her/him my plans in detail? Or should I not do that? Do you think department will be happy by any chance since somebody is taking less money as a postdoc? – Science Man Mar 16 '13 at 7:55
  • @Mathmath as long as a single professor recruits you and is flexible regarding the organizational details, I think also mixed models can be negotiated. If positions are announced on the department level, I guess they are seeking a more independent person. Then such a request may in fact have a negative impact on your application. – silvado Mar 19 '13 at 12:39
  • Maybe it should be added that if project here refers to something like a project grant that includes that full-time position and goes on for two years, "stretching" that position could be rather difficult: If the position is in fact funded from a 2-years research project, the money obtained for that project can usually be accessed during those 2 years and no longer. Whatever is not used at the end of the two years is "lost" (for the particular project participants), as the grant essentially says "investigate X within 2 years and use at most Y money for up to Z full-time positions". – O. R. Mapper May 24 '14 at 18:24
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For France, this will likely not work : for administrative reasons we cannot pay a postdoc with a PhD salary (or a "little bit more than PhD salary"), in fact we must follow some strict salary guidelines. However, there exists a position in between PhD and Postdoc, this position is called "research engineer". This is not officially a postdoc position, but it could be unofficially a postdoc position, with a lower salary.

But, because there is always a but, I advice you not to tell a person that you are ready to work for less money than the salary offered by this person. This is not likely that you will obtain any position if you follow this strategy. When I have money for a postdoc, either I don't really "need" (=for a specific project) a postdoc and then I will hire someone who is independent (and it is unlikely that this kind of person is ready to work for a lower salary because independence comes mostly from experience); or I really need a postdoc, and in this case there is no way that I will accept someone I refused previously, even for a lower price.

  • Thanks Prof. Peyronnet for your response, but some universities advertise a general position for postdoc as well, or say in France, they advertise for a project where you can choose your university and postdoc mentor (e.g. ANR project), or for example, in Finland: euro-math-soc.eu/node/3465 is where a university is looking for a postdoc, not any professor in particular. Do you think there is a way I can mention in my cover letter that I would need to need time to educate myself further and so will be open to a semi-responsible position (=lower salary without saying it)? – Science Man Mar 16 '13 at 23:19

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