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Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 8:34 am
by Donny G.
I have been offered two postdoc positions. The first is with a prominent researcher in the research field I have been working in, the second would require transitioning to a different research field with less prominent researchers. Although I prefer the first offer and feel it would be better for my career in the long run, it is in an expensive city. I would have to exhaust mine and my spouse's savings in order to afford to make the move. The second offer is in a more affordable area, I would likely even be able to save money, but ultimately would not be doing what I want. Is it worth taking a chance on a better position that would effect us financially, or choose the safer option?

Re: Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:46 am
by Dave Jensen

Since you are know for your first full-time role by the work that you did previously (in other words you are hired for the postdoc work you did), you stand a chance of forever doing the "wrong" work if you take the postdoc in the lower COL area.

Plenty of young postdocs find a way to live and work in places like San Francisco or NYC. Talk to them -- find out how they do it. That route may be much preferable in the long run.


Re: Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 11:30 am
by Dave Walker
Hi Donny,

To answer your question, I say absolutely go for the prominent postdoc if it helps your career -- the long term investment will be worth it. If you can set a short time frame with your new PI, like 2-3 years, you can move out as soon as that's done.

I assume you haven't made the decision yet...have you tried negotiating for moving expenses?

For one data point, my wife went to the negotiation table with her postdoc PI asking for moving expenses and a raise. The raise washed out, but she got expenses for moving -- airfare and shipping of her stuff. (Also, know that you can possibly deduct moving expenses from your taxes if they are not reimbursed.)

What is your "expensive city"? I know some New York universities offer subsidized housing. Dorm living as a postdoc doesn't sound like a walk in the (Central) park, but it might help.

Couples I know in my nearby expensive city, Boston, eat cheaply, ride their bikes everywhere and have lots of roommates. It's not so bad, and they are all determined to leave within 5 years.

Re: Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 12:24 pm
by John D. D,
I am not sure that economics should really play into your decision too much at this stage. You are probably looking to "spring", so the consideration that I would consider relevant is how established your career was by your Ph.D. experience. It can work to your advantage to go into a situation where you gain breadth, exposure to others outside your field of interest (no potential conflicts over future intellectual territory), and you contribute all expertise in your current field to the new postdoc that doesn't have that expertise. Otherwise, if you think that the postdoc was designed for you (and not your postdoc advisor), take the one that is more directly relevant to your career, and impassions you.

Re: Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:20 pm
by Craig B.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned by the previous posters (I agree with a lot of what they say about going with the more prominent position) is that there can be a lot more opportunities in some of the more expensive cities.

If you're in a place like San Francisco, NYC, or Boston, there are a ton of top tier academic institutions. If your postdoc were to fail or you need to do a second one, there are more local options. The same can't be said for other (potentially cheaper) cities where there may be one R1 in town.

Outside of academia, these higher cost of living cities also tend to be more prominent hubs for scientific industry. In addition to being able to network with non-academic scientists in your area, you can have a distinct advantage as a local applicant when you apply for industry jobs.

Re: Choosing a postdoc

PostPosted: Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:06 am
by Dave Walker
Craig B. wrote:One thing that hasn't been mentioned by the previous posters ... is that there can be a lot more opportunities in some of the more expensive cities.

Great point, Craig. Network access can be essential, and may be worth it more than everything else!

I think that the network access even beats out the increased competition one might face finding employment there. We've had this discussion on the board in the past, living in a "Hub" versus a "spoke" city: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=10352