How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

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How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby Adrian L. » Wed Aug 12, 2015 6:29 am

Hi all,
I am almost at the third year of post-doc, and I would like to move for a second post-doc. From this first post-doc I still have to get out the two papers I plan to publish, and I feel I am not ready for a tenure-track.
According to my boss I should not leave the lab for a second post-doc, since after 5 years from the PhD defense it's almost impossible to get a tenure-track in Europe. Do you think he is right? I am now at my third year after my PhD, without any paper published as a post-doc. So I don't consider my first experience as a post-doc successful.
Thanks in advance!
Adrian L.
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Re: How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby Rich Lemert » Wed Aug 12, 2015 1:54 pm

How do you know you're "not ready" for a tenure track position? Have you even tried to obtain one? That's really the only accurate test.

The danger of having too much experience as a post-doc is that you are going to be sending a subliminal message that you are unwilling or unable to take on the responsibility of being a PI. "He makes a great technician carrying out someone else's research, but he can't come up with any ideas on his own."

My suggestion is to get busy and get those two papers you refer to out. They don't need to be published, but ideally they should have been accepted by the time you apply. Even that's not critical, though, as long as you can demonstrate that they have a good probability of being accepted. Then, as soon as those papers have been submitted, start talking to people in the programs to which you'd like to apply. Don't just blindly submit an application in response to an ad - do your networking.

One of the first questions you can ask as you establish your network can be "do you think I'm ready?"
Rich Lemert
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Re: How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby John D. D, » Wed Aug 12, 2015 1:56 pm

I think it depends on the country in Europe. England may be the most flexible in terms of allowing mobility between post-docs, but they are also quite particular about age and faculty. In most Latin countries, faculty are picked and groomed from the start of graduate studies, so anything that would disrupt a relationship with a faculty member along the way would be difficult to accommodate later. In German countries, the have a habilitation, which allows older candidates and more independence, but has its own process:
John D. D,
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Re: How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby PG » Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:13 am

It may also depend on the grant system. For example I know that we at least used to have several grants for which you could only apply within the first 5 years after your PhD. The purpose was to ensure that people within this part of their career could compete for substantial grants. These were focused at becoming a PI and included money for your own salary+ money to use for research.
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It depends...

Postby P.C. » Fri Aug 14, 2015 8:25 am

One of my PIs got a job tenure track position after 0.8 yrs of a post-doc position. His former PI advocated for him.

Mileage may vary depending upon driving habits.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain
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Re: How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby MFM » Mon Aug 17, 2015 3:05 pm

It really depends on country and subject. For the life sciences I know cases at both extremes: one of my mentors got a PI position right out of grad school. On the other hand, people in my former postdoc lab were generally there for 5-7 years before heading out (even though the lab has a high placement rate for tenure track positions).

For positions in the EU you should remember that you can only apply for ERC Start grants within seven years of your PhD graduation. If you take any time out (other than maternity leave, national service or illness) it will not be taken into account.

How quickly do you think you can get your papers written up and published? Don't forget that publishing can take quite a while as well...6 months or more happens quite frequently. Ideally, you should have at least one paper accepted by the time you apply. To some extent it also depends on where you publish. The other really important thing for tt applications is your research plan. Spend some time thinking about what direction(s) you want to go in. If you can think of interesting ways for your research to develop and you can back this up with at least one paper, then I'd say you're ready to apply!
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Re: How many years of post-doc to get a tenure track?

Postby BMK » Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:24 am

I'll tell you one thing that I've seen work with many people: get some kind of training/postdoc grant (a competitive one that you apply for) and be productive on it. Its almost like a switch: in my own case, before I got a grant, I had no interest in my applications; after I got a grant, TONs of interest.

To be honest, I think in today's climate the only way to really set yourself apart from the competition is to obtain some level of independent funding. Especially given that many tenure track ads state something to the effect of "Candidates must have demonstrated ability or
strong potential to obtain significant grant funding." It's a risk mitigation thing from the departments' standpoint to hire people who they know can write grants. Plus, it gives you the ability to see if you can do it + like it (because that will be your life on the tenure track).
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