Forever post-doc

I’ve been interviewing post-docs over Skype and most are the usual international students with the occasional okay PhD student sprinkled in.  There are always so many more open post-doc positions out there than there are good post-docs.  So it’s not too easy for me to compete with the biggest names, but I’ve done okay.  However, I did find one good one who’s well experienced, mature, and would make a good fit.  He’s been a post-doc on seven years now and I’m iffy.  Not because he’s been in post-doc positions for so long and not because he might get an academic position and be gone.  His large amount of time in the post-doc is great because he brings great experience, and if he goes to an academic position I’d be happy for him.  I’m iffy because I feel wrong giving him another post-doc.  He should be at the point in his training where he should be running more of a program.  And if I saddle him here I feel I’m doing him a disservice.  I know it’s not my place to tell this person what to do, but I think it’s time to take a research prof (non-tenure track) position or skip off to industry.  He’s very smart, mature, and hard-working so he’ll do well where ever he goes.  He said he just hasn’t gotten bites on his application, which I agreed to look over, and it does seem a little run-of-the-mill.  Which usually is great if you have an Ivy league school on your CV, which he does not.  I just feel like I’d be exploiting this person by putting him in another post-doc.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I want to tell him that I don’t think another post-doc is the right thing for him, but I’m afraid he may be insulted.  There are a lot of non-tenure track positions out there in addition to a bunch of industry positions (the economy, while slowing, is still quite hot if you have the right skillsets).  Maybe I’m overthinking this, and should just bring in who I think will be a great researcher, but I just feel dirty doing it.



5 thoughts on “Forever post-doc

  1. I definitely wouldn’t tell him, “You’re too good for this position; you’re ready for bigger and better things!” You don’t know what his plans are. Most people don’t want to be the boss; they are perfectly content being worker bees and following someone else’s plans. I’d say if he looks good enough to hire, offer him the job. It’s up to him to then take it or not.


    • At first I had thought that maybe he just wanted to be a follower, but the fact that he’s been trying to get a faculty job confused me. You make a point though, I feel bad I may be exploiting him (I may just be oversensitive), but ultimately it is his choice. I am planning on asking him a few more questions about career desires, but otherwise he’ll be getting an offer. My SO basically said the same thing you did: he’s his own person, if I offer, it is their decision and their’s alone.


      • I totally understand feeling like you’re taking advantage of someone by bringing them on. When I started out, I actually thought I was unworthy of the best students, because I was a no-name, they should go work with someone famous who can propel them! A faculty colleague disabused me of that notion, told me it’s OK to be a little selfish. You need good people, so you need to attract good people; do all you can to help them advance, but ultimately it’s OK to want to maximize both your research success and theirs.

        I don’t know how your field is, but in mine, after 7 years as a postdoc, that guy will never get a faculty job. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Sure, he applied, but probably because he doesn’t know what else to do, what other opportunities there are, maybe visa issues, who knows? I bet he’s going to turn out to be a great second/third in command.

        Good luck!


  2. You said he should get a research professor position. Why not treat him like YOUR research professor? Have him run entire projects, write proposals for grants (for you, with him as co-PI/senior personnel), run those projects, advise students, and so on. I was recently on a faculty hiring committee, and was so seriously unimpressed with how unprepared nearly ALL of the applicants were when it came to ACTUALLY running a research program. They were all bad-ass scientists, to be sure, but most were still extremely naive. Many of these came from ivy league programs and spent their post docs working on projects and writing papers, maybe with an undergrad to supervise, probably going to some conferences. Very few knew how to play the funding game and came in with a solid plan and experience in this regard. I asked them for their plan regarding proposals in their first few years as faculty, and they bombed, giving an answer equivalent to “well, I will submit something to the NSF…” No details. No list of proposal topics and agencies and collaborations. When I started my postdoc, there was NO WAY I could have gotten a faculty position (because I hadn’t groomed my CV for this nor sought out a prestigious post doc). Instead, I learned street smarts… was thrown into the deep end to not only work on projects, but to manage them, wrote a ton of proposals, wrote program reports, was entirely responsible for reporting to program officers, won grants. Now I could probably get a faculty position if I wanted (which I don’t want to – happy to stay as research prof), even without the pedigree or glamor pubs, because I’ve shown that I can bring in money, manage projects, and continue to publish. I would probably just do something to add some teaching to my CV – teach a course and do some workshops… etc. You seem to not be the traditional PI, so maybe you can truly mentor this guy while having him do great work for/with your group.


    • Do you think this person should be paid the salary of a research prof? Because expecting someone to act like a research prof while being paid as a postdoc is the the definition of exploitation.

      “Now I could probably get a faculty position if I wanted”
      In my field, likely not. In some fields/schools, being a research prof, even if you’ve managed to secure some of your own funding, is not a positive.

      To the OP: offer this person the position if you want. Being selfish seems to be a requirement for most academics. But since you offered to take a look at his application, you should be honest and tell him that you don’t believe a postdoc in your lab will help him get a job. Then he can make up his own mind.


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