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I'm PhD student beginning my third year. I plan to graduate at the end of my fourth year, leaving me with about another two years. However, at the end of a productive summer of research, my PhD supervisor has mentioned that I'd be on track to finish considerably earlier if I want to. My program uses the "three papers" dissertation model, so at any given time, it's pretty easy to gauge how close we are.

In fact, I do not want to finish early because I am really enjoying doing research with my supervisor and feel that I'm receiving outstanding mentorship from him. Additionally, four years is already fairly short for my program (which is usually done in five years), so it doesn't seem that there is much additional benefit to finishing before year 4.

Instead, I'm considering asking my supervisor if I should defend early and then become his postdoc for whatever remains of my planned four years. I imagine the benefits would be:

  1. Since I plan to apply for faculty positions after this, I would have nominally "done a postdoc" instead of being fresh out my PhD.

  2. I'd be off the hook in terms of departmental responsibilities, like TAing, for my fourth year.

Are there other advantages or disadvantages to defending early to become a postdoc? Also, are there advantages or disadvantages for my PhD supervisor?

(I have reason to believe that postdoc funding would not be an issue, so perhaps let's not focus much on that.)

  • Just to be clear: Do you mean 3rd year at the PhD level? – user67075 Sep 3 '17 at 8:55
  • I've never heard of this. Much more usual that PhD students have to take a year or three extra time to fulfil the requirements. But in other regards I agree with Jessicas answer. The amount of responsibiility usually grows more and more each step further up the academic ladder you get. It is not unusual that professors have a hard time allocating time to do research if they don't do it on unpaid hours. They usually have tens of other responsibilities which distract them and eat away (the paid part of) their daytime. – mathreadler Sep 3 '17 at 12:57
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    There is some relevant advice on Secret Blogging Seminar: "Don't graduate until you have to." "The longer you stay in graduate school the stronger you will be on the job market at every point down the road. If you have the luxury to wait then do so. You’ll have more publications, you’ll be better prepared to publish a lot as a postdoc, and you will get a better job. As my advisor told me once “It is like a fine wine, you want to go on the market more mature.” – littleO Sep 4 '17 at 3:03
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    @half-pass I'm bemused as to how you've got into that situation, but if your application is really strong then a pretend postdoc is not going to be a noticeable improvement to your CV. – Jessica B Sep 5 '17 at 5:43
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    @half-pass As I mentioned, if you have a strong application now, keep working and at the end of a real postdoc, after a "full" phd, you will be able to go wherever you want. Unless you have external reasons to rush it.. – Fábio Dias Sep 6 '17 at 2:08
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You don't mention the country/field, but I'll give my 2 cents because I did my PhD in 3-4 years (depending how you count it).

IMHO and experience, there are virtually no upsides to rushing this:

  • If you don't have a postdoc position guaranteed, you would be competing against people that spent 6 years padding their resumes. You have 3 papers, they will have about 10-12, or at least 5. The last years tend to be more productive.
  • Postdocs usually have limited duration. Effectively, you would be reducing the amount of time you have to "pad" your resume for a position after the postdoc. Think of someone with 6 year phd in their belts + 2 year postdoc...
  • Postdocs can teach as well. It is good for your CV and can help financially.
  • Postdocs are shorter. It always takes a while to get your bearings at the start, so the scientific production will likely take a hit.

Of course, you might have personal factors that I cannot account for (like lack of funding, two body problem, etc), but in general, I would advise any student of mine to take all the possible/necessary time, assuming that they want to get a TT position somewhere good. If you want to teach in the back of beyond, or go to the industry (in a non-research position) then ok, rushing can work.

TLDR; If you think you are good enough now, you could be even better in a few years, which would greatly increase your chances for a good TT position.

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    It should be noted that such an "in-lab" transition is usually noted in the US as a temporary employment-related issue and a continuation of grad studies, rather than a true independent postdoc, particularly if the time period is a year or less. – aeismail Sep 3 '17 at 15:06
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    Depends on the country. In Australia, 4 years for a PhD is standard, and universities try and get you finished in 3 years. The wage discrepancy between PhD and post-doc is also much larger (25k vs 75k AUD), which gives a significant financial incentive to finish earlier. – Andrew Guy Sep 4 '17 at 1:41
  • @AndrewGuy same thing in Brazil, but that's rather shortsighted, IMHO, as it increases you immediate pay, but restrains your future position. Granted, it might be necessary, but would probably create a bigger problem later. Of course, I'm assuming average researcher, rockstars don't get those problems. – Fábio Dias Sep 4 '17 at 18:25
  • Thanks for this thoughtful answer. In terms of being competitive for the postdoc, though, I assume this would be basically between me and my PhD supervisor, right? I'm specifically considering turning into his postdoc partway through my 4 years, rather than applying to outside labs. – half-pass Sep 4 '17 at 22:51
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    @half-pass But you are still thinking only near term. You might have this postdoc "in the bag" (mind the comments about posdoc in the same place as the phd), but when that is done, then what? Think about the end goal, which isn't a temporary internship position – Fábio Dias Sep 6 '17 at 2:03
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Regarding potential downsides for you:

"Time since obtaining the PhD" is often taken as the academic age, so by graduating early, you make yourself appear older. This can have a formal impact, for example, many grants meant for postdocs come with age restrictions, so are only available in the first n years after obtaining your PhD.

[Side note: This wouldn't matter for you if you get a faculty position straight away, but at least in my area, this would be quite unusual.]

The academic age can also play a role informally if people have to judge your productivity. (Number of papers)/(Years since PhD) is a formula I've seen a few times in this context.

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    Number of papers without taking the quality of the papers into account seems rather strange to me. – Mitja Sep 3 '17 at 22:01
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    @Mitja Think (number of good papers)/(years since PhD) then. – JeffE Sep 4 '17 at 0:46
  • Interesting. I hadn't thought of this. – half-pass Sep 4 '17 at 22:39
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For advisors, there may be a big change in how grad students and postdocs are paid, and what charges are being assessed to their grants. These may be helpful or hurtful to your chances of getting a postdoc position.

For instance, your advisor may be currently paying tuition charges that he would not have to pay if you were to become a postdoc. On the other hand, he may have to pay you a substantially higher salary as well as overhead to support you as a postdoc. So it's really a factor of what the rules are at your school.

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    My definite impression is that postdocs typically cost subtantially more to a grant than graduate students. – user67075 Sep 3 '17 at 8:51
  • The big question is if the advisor has to pay tuition charges. At the school where I did my PhD, the advisor had to cough up $35K per year for tuition, which made grad students just as expensive as postdocs! – aeismail Sep 3 '17 at 15:04
  • @ZeroTheHero Some schools in the US require tuition be paid out of the advisor's grant (if RAing and not TAing). This can be in the 20-40k range! and is in addition to the stipend. At other schools this "tuition" money isn't "real" money and gets waved by the university. In the former school a grad student costs as much, if not more than a postdoc, where as in the latter school the grad student is far cheaper. Cornell is an example of a school where grad students were sometimes more expensive than postdocs, but I believe this it in the minority. – WetlabStudent Sep 4 '17 at 8:21
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Moving up through the levels of academia brings more responsibility and less support. Being an academic is not easy (try looking up stress levels among academics). I would personally not recommend rushing if you can afford not to.

In terms of your suggested benefits:

  1. In most fields it is (very) unusual to go directly to a faculty research position. Going straight to a teaching position is possible, but it doesn't sound like that's what you're hoping for. When you apply for postdocs as a PhD student, you are measured heavily by your references. When you apply as a postdoc, you are measured much more by the papers you have produced. Also, in my field at least, the new-postdocs are considered for jobs before the repeat-postdocs.

  2. In a faculty position you will almost certainly be expected to teach. Avoiding teaching is therefore not necessarily a good move. Also, depending on the terms of a postdoc position, as a postdoc you could get landed with admin duties that count for less on your CV (as well as being less interesting).

  • In my case, somewhat unusually, I have my eye mostly on non-tenure-line, research-all-the-time faculty positions. But, +1 because I think this is generally sound advice. – half-pass Sep 4 '17 at 22:40
  • @half-pass What do you mean by 'faculty position' if you don't mean 'tenure-track'? Also, it's not unusual to want to not teach, but it's unusual to get to not teach. – Jessica B Sep 5 '17 at 5:37
  • In my field there are NTL positions in which you only do research, with the usual teaching duties replaced by collaborative research. – half-pass Sep 5 '17 at 11:45
  • I'm curious how easy it would be to get a paper published saying stress level among researchers is high, especially if the conclusion of said paper would be the pressure to publish would be the cause for that stress. ;) – mathreadler Apr 17 '18 at 14:15
  • @mathreadler I don't think that's the conclusion you'd come to. It's not solely or uniquely the pressure to publish. It's more generically the pressure to achieve far more than can reasonably be expected in the available time. – Jessica B Apr 17 '18 at 17:19
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I would recommend doing your postdoc in a different research group from your PhD. For PhD students who are pursuing an academic career, in the United States the usual route is to stay a PhD student until you get a job offer. If you accept a postdoc position in your PhD advisor's group, it may be interpreted as meaning you were unable to get any other job offer. You will not have as many different experiences as someone who has worked in two groups.

In Australia you would be expected to finish in 3.5 years, so you would not have a choice of waiting for a job offer. You also would not be finishing early.

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    In the summer between my second and third years (we got funding for 3.5 years, so 4 was the norm for those wanting to stay in academia) I had a conversation with my supervisor that went (roughly): 'You could finish this year if you wanted to.' 'Then what?' 'Good point, you'd struggle to get a job.' 'Ok, so what do I do instead?' 'Travel?' And that's what I did (thanks to a Cecil King scholarship). An alternative CV-builder would be organising a conference. – Jessica B Sep 4 '17 at 6:54
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The answer depends on your goals. Two common goals:

  1. Do you want to maximize the time you can do research?

Then it's probably good to linger on the PhD studies. Once you are a PhD you will get more and more "responsibility" (double-speak for irritating side quests which eat up your time to do research)

  1. Do you want to maximize your income?

Post docs usually get paid more.


Also the PhD degree is a stamp of approval that you can do research independently.

Ending up postdocing at the same place where you did the PhD... does not really confirm that.

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