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So, the postdoc is going ok and there might be one or two publications after a few months. However, I've realized that I'd like to move forward and start applying to industry jobs.

Now, my concern is whether having a few-month postdoc in the resume/CV might hurt, and I wonder what would be the minimal "ok" length for a postdoc. I have the feeling that an ultra-short postdoc might seem suspicious to a recruiter (it may look like I was ultra-bad and was kicked out, which is not the case).

While some people would claim "leave the postdoc ASAP, especially if you want to go to industry", I was wondering whether something around 6-8 months is fine..., or maybe I should wait >= 1 year.

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    If you have 1-2 publications to show after a few months, isn't that evidence enough that your postdoc time was very productive, i.e., successful? This detail might however be lost when people glance over a CV. Note: PhD student here, thus I cannot talk from experience. – workingonit Jul 24 '17 at 5:34
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    Maybe it is better to ask this question on The Workplace to get the perspective of the industry people. Here you will mostly find academics. – Federico Poloni Jul 24 '17 at 5:57
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    Some postdoc positions may only be 6 months long (I think 3 has occurred but I can't remember exactly). – Jessica B Jul 24 '17 at 7:25
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    My question in a job interview would probably be "Why did you start the postdoc, in the first place?". What would your answer be? – AnoE Jul 24 '17 at 9:22
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about obtaining jobs outside academia. – David Richerby Jul 24 '17 at 22:19
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If you know that you are not interested in staying in academia, the common advice is indeed to go on the industrial job market as soon as possible.

Every month you stay in a lowly-paid postdoc, if you are not enjoying it and are not building an academic profile, is essentially wasted.

Your question is based on the somewhat suspicious premise that an industrial recruiter cares about how long you stayed in your postdoc, i.e., that your market value goes up by staying in a postdoc. I highly doubt that this is the case, but you can easily evaluate it yourself: go on the job market right now (without quitting your postdoc!) and see if you get offers that you find acceptable. If you do not (for whatever reason), you can still continue your postdoc and improve your market value on the side; if you do, well, quit within an appropriate time frame and start your new life.

Note: this advice is based on the assumption that you can delay the start date of your industrial job by a few months so that you can leave your postdoc in order. In my experience, this is often the case for the kind of jobs that PhD holders tend to look for, but obviously your milage may vary on this.

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    I think your advice is sound. On paper. In real life, some postdoc positions might only be reasonable to leave in July or so, making "find a position now" almost silly, nobody will wait a year for an employee. And on the other hand, an industry job hunt which has a strong research side to it will benefit from having an active academic profile. – Ink blot Jul 24 '17 at 7:25
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    @Inkblot A postdoc position shouldn't have a notice period of nearly a year, unless it is really a teaching position under another name (and even then...). By 'only reasonable to leave in July' you mean if you are looking for an academic position in the northern hemisphere, or from the point of view of the supervisor, not for the postdoc wanting to move to industry. – Jessica B Jul 24 '17 at 7:29
  • @JessicaB: All the positions I've encountered in the US were "teaching included" and they were not "teaching position in disguise", it's just what is expected of you. In most of the other cases you apply for a grant, and you are expected to stay and see that research through, or give back a hefty sum of money (which they may or may not pursue, I don't know). Of course, if someone hires you as a postdoc, then you can leave whenever you want (especially if you let them know this might happen, and they agreed to hire you anyway). – Ink blot Jul 24 '17 at 7:35
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    @Inkblot "nobody will wait a year for an employee"; That's not true. People generally won't want to wait a year to fill a specific position. However, there are plenty of companies with ongoing needs (such as consultancy, large development teams) who require skills and ability to learn for long-term business rather than specific projects. These organisations may well be perfectly happy to offer a position for a year later. – Samthere Jul 24 '17 at 10:19
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    Your question is based on the somewhat suspicious premise that an industrial recruiter cares about how long you stayed in your postdoc... Good answer, but I think you are sacrificing accuracy for politeness. "Somewhat suspicious" should really say "manifestly false". – Dan Romik Jul 24 '17 at 21:43
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@JessicaB's comment is right:

Some postdoc positions may only be 6 months long (I think 3 has occurred but I can't remember exactly).

I've seen a few people recruited for 6 months, and applied for one less than a year long myself.

Don't go into detail about why you left unless asked. Being thrown out of a job is rare in most places, especially academia, so this probably won't even be on the recruiter's radar. They're more likely think either "no wonder they want to leave academia with that kind of job security" or "this applicant is going to jump on every better opportunity that comes their way". Your task is to steer them towards the former view.

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  • @Jessica B and yourself mentioned a very good point: some postdoc positions last <1 year. I wasn't really aware of this. I guess that, as you mention, I could claim that "there was very low job security" (which is actually true for yearly postdocs). – Elabore Jul 25 '17 at 3:42
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If your goal is to go to industry, every additional month that you stay in your postdoc is costing you both money and valuable work experience. Money, because industry jobs pay better than postdocs. Experience, because a month of industry experience is worth more for a career in industry that a month of postdoc experience.

In other words, the "shortest acceptable postsoc length" is zero.

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  • Although this is not so common, there are people such that doing postdoc with them would be actually a great benefit for industry positions (mostly due to connections, but sometimes also due to know-how learned). – dtldarek Jul 25 '17 at 13:15
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If you are in a postdoc that you feel has served its purpose and you want to move on, I imagine the only question is not what employers will think but what the faculty you're working with will think. Were they expecting you to leave this quickly, and if not, are you leaving them in a bad position? If they're fine with you leaving, leave.

But now I'll answer from a different perspective, which is the one I assumed was really being asked when I saw the subject line. A related question is, how long is a useful duration to make a postdoc worthwhile? I think this is worth addressing. I did a postdoc in computer science many years ago, then went into industry. The professor I worked with had a postdoc before me for a year, and me for a year, and then decided to start recruiting 2-year postdocs because he felt that one year wasn't really enough. Basically, at least in some fields, by the time you're coming up to speed and really getting things done, it's time to leave, and time for the professor to train someone new.

So I personally don't see a 3-6 month postdoc really as a "postdoc" but more like a "let's fill the gap in the schedule while I wait to apply for jobs" thing. I recommend that those who do a postdoc plan to spend enough time to settle in. Teaching a course in that time, by the way, is excellent experience.

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