I'm curious as to how long postdoc positions in math usually last for. I'm far away from thinking much about this myself but all my grad student friends seem to be telling me they only last a year or two. Now I know people don't want a postdoctoral position that's too long, but I'm getting the sense that postdocs in math are both less common and generally shorter than post docs in other areas. I'm wondering if this is true or if I'm just getting the wrong idea as an undergrad from a relatively small pool of graduate students. Primarily I'm just curious as to how long these positions usually last in mathematics.

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    In my experience in technical fields, the typical postdoc is two years, with some extendible for one year. I have only seen a single case of a five year postdoc position.
    – Davidmh
    Jun 25, 2017 at 8:26
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    This surely depends on what country you're asking about. Postdocs are usually funded from research grants so the answer is going to depend on what length projects the funding agencies support in particular regions. Jun 25, 2017 at 8:50
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    @DavidRicherby Most math "postdocs" (in the US) are essentially short-term pre-tenure-track faculty positions, paid by the department from general funds, not by research grants. (And they are extremely common.)
    – JeffE
    Jun 25, 2017 at 22:38
  • @JeffE OK but that makes my point even stronger! Even the things I assumed would be the same but cause differences turn out to be different. Jun 26, 2017 at 8:48
  • I just saw a letter from 1973 in Physics Today (looking for something else). At that time, the standard physics post-doc was apparently a two year position, and the letter writer was advocating for three year positions split across two different groups. One argument was that the second year was spent job-hunting while the first was spent feverishly trying to produce results.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 26, 2017 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


This varies considerably from country to country. In the US, the "gold standard" is typically a 3 year position (just a quick look at MathJobs reveals ones at Baylor, Dartmouth, Northeastern, and that was just on the first page of listings). Note that some will say that they are shorter with a possibility of extension to 3 years; the extension is generally just a formality. There are even occasionally 4 year positions. There are also a mix of shorter positions: one semester or one year appointments at institutes like MSRI or IAS are usually intended to complement specific programs, and generally taken as a supplement to a longer term position. Sometimes there are shorter grant funded positions, though in most cases I know in the US, the department will be able to step in to extend the appointment to 3 years. "Postdoc" is also a kind of porous category; sometimes departments will hire shorter term positions when they just need someone to teach a few classes which fit somewhere on the continuum of postdoc to adjunct positions.

In the rest of the world, positions this long are much less common, due to some mix of cultural and economic factors, but certainly not unknown. Generally positions outside the US are funded by grants, and it is hard to get enough funding to support a postdoc for 3 years (in most countries).


While it is hard to say anything completely precise, your friends would generally be correct if they were speaking about postdocs in Europe (at least in my branch of pure math).

I have looked through a lot of math postdoc positions while looking for one myself, and at least in Europe they rarely last more than 2 years.

This is not to say that there are no 3-year postdocs, but they are far between, at least in pure math in Europe.

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    But since the OP's friends are (presumably) American, based on the location, they are actually wrong. Jun 25, 2017 at 8:33
  • Ahh, good point. I had not checked where the OP was located. I will edit to make it more clear what geographic region my answer pertains to. Jun 25, 2017 at 8:36
  • Yes I'm in the U.S. thanks. Sounds like my impression was incorrect! Jun 26, 2017 at 19:32

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