Should I do a postdoc in my PhD adviser's new university?
September 27, 2017 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I am a PhD student waiting to defend my thesis. My PhD adviser recently moved to another university in another country and they asked me if I want to join them as a postdoc. Is this a good idea for someone who wants to be a teaching professor?

My PhD adviser recently moved to another university in another country and they asked me if I want to join them as a postdoc.

I know that this is very much frowned upon if I want to look for a tenure track job in the future but I have little intention of going into the tenure track. My career goal is to be a teaching professor, preferably in a small teaching-focused university.

Currently, with the postdoc offer I have two choices:

1. Move with my adviser and do a postdoc with them for two years. I have a good relationship with my adviser and I do not mind moving to another country so that is not a problem. This option also has the advantage of potentially giving me a few papers and exposing me to a new university environment. However, I will work in a similar topic and using the same technique as in my PhD and the postdoc is a full research position so this means I will not teach for the next two years.

2. I currently have a full-time TA position in my PhD university and if I stay, I probably will have the chance to run my own undergraduate course as an instructor in the next academic year. However, this means I basically stop doing research completely and I will be staying in the same university since my undergraduate.

Of course I can always try to find a postdoc with another adviser or apply for an instructor job in another university, but as of now these are the two immediate choices that I have and I need to decide soon.

My question is: which of the two options will help me land a teaching track job in the future? My field is psychology/ cognitive neuroscience though I would be interested to hear answers about the selection criteria for a teaching track position in general.
posted by thecampushippo to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A little confusing.

There are many fields where working as a post-doc for a reputable PI is not only not frowned upon, but a critical step toward the tenure track. Is psych / cog neuro not one of these fields?

Are you not speaking about the United States in terms of your long term ambitions? Because in the US a "teaching professor" at a "small teaching-focused university" is still a tenure track job which you get in large part on the strength of your scholarly and research record and potential (including post-docs if applicable), even if the committee cares more about your teaching than an R1 committee might, and you won't have a big lab or a lot of teaching release time for research projects.
posted by MattD at 8:03 AM on September 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

(I'm answering this under the assumption that you are getting your PhD in the US and ultimately hoping to get a permanent faculty position in the US.)

I think you might be confused about teaching vs. tenure track jobs. With the exception of two year schools, there really aren't permanent faculty positions that are teaching only. If your goal is to teach at a two year university, a postdoc will not help you at all because research is not at all the focus of those jobs. If you are aiming for a two year school (community college or similar), finish your PhD and start applying. Confessions of a Community College Dean has some good resources for applying for those sorts of job.

If you are hoping to get a permanent faculty position as a professor who does nothing but teach at, for example, a small liberal arts college, that is not possible. Research, publications, service, and especially showing that you can engage undergrads in your research are fundamental for faculty teaching at small, teaching-focused schools. Research productivity is still important for tenure at teaching-focused and smaller universities, though in some places research on pedagogy in your field can count. Karen Kelsky's blog, The Professor Is In, has a lot of information about this and strategizing to get these sorts of jobs. You might read Behind The Scenes of A Job Search and The Teaching-Centric Letter for a start.

So if you're hoping to get a job as faculty at a small liberal arts school, I would guess that doing a postdoc would help you extend your research, get out more papers, and make you more marketable as a productive potential faculty member. It might be a good time to show that you can supervise student research, too. But if you're planning to go for a community college job, I wouldn't.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:13 AM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think the idea is that postdocs are good/mandatory for any field of science, but sticking with your PhD adviser is less preferable than working with a different group: more exposure to new ideas, new new methods, more people skills, networking, etc. However, in this case, moving institutions will also open you up to new people and ideas, and so doing a postdoc with same adviser and a new place is probably on average better than sticking with the same adviser in the same place.

My two cents: do what you want, either is fine. Do you want to do more research, or focus more on teaching? If you do move with adviser, consider working with her to research change focus at least slightly, so that it's not just a simple continuation of your PhD work. Finally, MattD's point above stands: in the USA, even small "teaching" colleges will be looking closely at your prior research, and many will expect you to still publish good work, on top of your teaching obligations.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:14 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another issue to think about - do you want to end up teaching in the country that your PI is moving to? If you want to end up in your current country, an out of country post-doc (whether research-only or with a teaching component*) might lose you some of your network and/or the experience may not be see as as valid.

*I do know science post-docs who negotiated teaching experience (from guest lectures to professor of record) during their post-doc. Doing a post-doc is not incompatible with ending up at a teaching-focused facility. In fact, I don't know any TT faculty who didn't do a post-doc, no matter what kind of school they ended up at.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Teaching experience is still relatively unimportant in the tenure track. If your advisor is a top researcher in their field, then continuing to work with them on a post-doc could be a boost if it means getting your name on some publications in significant journals. If you don't have any other options, it looks better on your CV, generally, to go on to a postdoc than to take an Instructor/Adjunct position. Adjunct positions have basically zero prestige, whereas a postdoc is hard to come by. If you're about to defend or will defend in the Spring, I'd take the postdoc to give you a another year to be on the job market while also bolstering your research profile.
posted by dis_integration at 8:31 AM on September 27, 2017

Always assuming this is the U.S., I feel like telling you not to continue with your advisor because he or she has apparently wholly abdicated his or her responsibility to give you career guidance and so is not a reliable person. I almost think this can't be the U.S. because I can't fathom anyone getting to the end of a Ph.D. program without understanding what the people are saying above about teaching not being vs. tenure and the research expectations for any four-year university job.
posted by praemunire at 8:33 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

(Sorry, by "understanding," I mean, "understanding because the people charged with shaping your career told you," not "miraculously intuiting it.")
posted by praemunire at 8:34 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify: I am not in the US, both universities in question are in Asia, both have good ranking and good research program in my field though I think my PhD uni has a better ranking.

I'd be happy to learn more about how the teaching position works in the US, or elsewhere in the world. I have not really spoken much about my career goal with my adviser since I was buried so deep in my thesis in the last few months.
posted by thecampushippo at 8:40 AM on September 27, 2017

This question is difficult to answer without knowing how competitive teaching positions are in your country(ies). The postdoc sounds like a sure thing and, at least in my academic world, only add to your reputation/credibility.

Does teaching that one course at your current university make you a ton more competitive for teaching jobs? In the US context it would help, but it wouldn't be a sure thing. And if your goal is to work at a teaching-oriented college/university, that one teaching experience probably won't make a big difference, but if you take the other path, I doubt that they'll get hung up on the fact that you continued working under your advisor during your postdoc. It isn't THAT weird.

But the bigger missing piece here is - how does one get a teaching position in your country(ies)? I'm sure that none of us can really speak to that. You need to talk to academics in your country(ies) about how that works. In the US, teaching-oriented positions tend to go to those that have really tailored themselves for that world OR are sometimes viewed as "failures" that couldn't get a research oriented position.

If you were in the US, I'd suggest that you hustle and try to pick up a class or two at a community college to build up your teaching rather than miss out on a postdoc opportunity. But I don't know how common such positions are where you are at.

But I'd also ask you - if you've never taught before, why do you think that you'd like to be at a teaching oriented college/university?
posted by k8t at 9:30 AM on September 27, 2017

I think you can allow banal considerations like pay, cost of living, language, etc to play a part in your decision. Also, whether you would cherish the chance to do research, or are you burned out after the big push to finish your degree.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I was in precisely this position. I did not end up going with my advisor; I did a postdoc elsewhere. Ten years later I honestly don't think it would have made much of a difference for my career either way. If you want to end up in a teaching position, I think you should go wherever you will have the most opportunity to teach.
posted by karbonokapi at 10:41 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will be staying in the same university since my undergraduate.

Whatever your next step is, it should correct this. This is not optimal.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:58 PM on September 27, 2017

I think that doing a postdoc with your PhD advisor is generally better for your advisor than it is for you. That's not to say that it won't be mutually beneficial, but the best thing for your career development would be to do a postdoc with someone else.

You might also want to look at the hiring process for the sorts of jobs you're interested in and try to ascertain if being in Asia will be problematic. For instance, if the departments you're interested in do on-site interviews but might balk at paying international airfare (and therefore never invite you to interview).
posted by Doc_Sock at 2:08 AM on September 28, 2017

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