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Expectations of a Postdoc

  1. Nov 17, 2008 #1
    I am a postdoc in Spain, ending my first year of research. My bosses are currently trying to terminate my contract a year early, since (a) I haven't published anything (given 8 talks and attended 3 teleconferences, though), and (b) the PhD student whose dissertation they assigned me to direct quit. I've been dealing with constant checks on my whereabouts also, since they say I absolutely have to be in the office during Spanish business hours, rather than getting here early and leaving early. That aside, they have never commented on/helped me with my work. Is this normal? If not, what is it normally like to work as a postdoc? What is considered normal productivity/working hours?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2008 #2
    You aren't really serious about not getting anything published in a full year of work as a independent researcher? Because that is really bad in my opinion. I believe that more senior researchers could tell you how it really is in a better way though.

    Why did the Phd-student quit? Was it your fault? Could it be perceived as your fault?

    And getting there early and leaving early is bad for your work rep. The thing you should do is get to work when everyone else is, take your breaks when everyone else is and the most tantamount thing in work since the dawn of the stone age; you leave either when your boss leaves, or when it is ok according to agreement. A workplace is not like kindergarten, you have rules and deals to uphold. Besides, you got students and your phd-student to think of, they must be able to get a face-to-face during office hours.

    Are you serious about them never commenting or helped you on your work? Maybe it's because they work in an environment where you go to your boss to get help on an need-to-basis?

    I hope this helped, and I am not accusing you of anything, just trying to discern what the problem is and help you in the way i can :)
  4. Nov 17, 2008 #3


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    It depends on the project. Generally speaking I would say it is unusual for someone to actually get something published within the first year (remember that it usually takes several months for something you submit to appear in print). However, After one year you should probably have at least some initial results and have a very good idea about what more you need to do to get some publishable results.
    But again, it depends on the project. E.g. setting up a complicated experiment can often take 1-2 years

    At least in experimental physics there is often a 1-2 year "lag" between results and publication) (the papers that I have published this year contain data that I measured during the first half of last year).
  5. Nov 17, 2008 #4
    A 1-2 year lag? that was a bit, I thought that you had to publish at least something every year? Maybe it's just for the phds then?

    hello f95toli btw :D
  6. Nov 17, 2008 #5


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    Publishing frequency really depends on the field and the project. Some people can go an entire post doc without any publications to show for it. That's the nature of research, unfortunately. And yes, it can take a while to put a paper together. My recent publications have taken roughly half a year between submission and publication, and that's without significant re-writes.

    The original post however suggests that there was a miscommunitcation between employer and employee, in my opinion. If people feel the need to check up on you to make sure you're putting in your hours, then perhaps you did not understand their expectations. As far help from them, the amount of work to be done and by whom is usually stipluated at the beginning of the employment contract. Did your bosses state or imply that they would have time to dedicate to the project with you? Or were you expected to work independently? Have you given them regular reports or progress updates?

    At this point it would seem that your best bet is to do what you can to open up the lines of communication.
  7. Nov 18, 2008 #6
    Thanks to everyone for the replies. As to the initial expectations, I was told I'd be working directly with the guy who recruited me (the director of the group here). When I got here, though, he and his wife had decided I should keep working on what I'd done my dissertation on, but that I should add onto it to make a new dissertation for the PhD student they assigned me to. There was never a discussion about which hours I should work (and I did sort of ask, since the hours here in Spain are significantly later than they are in the U.S.--normally people work from between 10 and 12 until 5 or 7. I have a baby and a 2-hour commute, so I have to get in early and home early).

    The communication is definitely off here. (For a couple of examples: the PhD student I was assigned to still hadn't finished her Master's and had to devote the last year to that, which I didn't find out until mid-way through the last semester when I asked where she'd been. Plus, I didn't even find out they were displeased with my work--they were ordering a renewal contract for me as of September 9--until their mentor sat one of them down for a serious talk).

    Just for some background, though: I have material to write a couple of articles, and I'm currently working on an interior publication for our collaboration based on the talk I just wrote for the analysis meeting (yes, I'm an experimentalist). I had to change gears after the student left, since she and I were going to publish within the collaboration (since her disseration would be done with their data), which would take just forever (the approval process with over 300 members is really lengthy, and that's before it's even submitted).

    What I'm really looking for is an insight into what to expect as a postdoc working on an experiment. I know that this nightmare situation (cutting me out of all communication and group events/meetings, reporting me to the legal department if I take my baby to the doctor for a fever, secretly planning to have my contract nullified without telling me, hacking into my computer to remove my superuser priveleges without notifying me, etc.), but I'm hoping it's an anomaly. My husband is thinking this is just indicative of what postdocs have to deal with, and I'm hoping to be able to give him some reassurance that the next one will be better.
  8. Nov 18, 2008 #7
    A 2-hour commute? Holy ****. Who in their right mind would do that? If it wasn't japan or something.

    Ok, it seems that it's a lack of communication. And I would say (if this is true based on your one-sided story) that the workplace is very unhealthy and intolerant. '

    Besides, a guy working with his wife? I would never work under a crazy person like that, If I didn't know that they would be professional. To me it looks very bad when half of the faculty is filled with "friends", "spouses" and the like. It's called nepotism and is one of the ugliest cancers of academia.
  9. Nov 19, 2008 #8
    I'm also highly anti nepotism-based departments. They actually hid they were married until months after I got here (the husband never mentioned her existence during the negotiations). Google searches never revealed it either.

    At least this will be a good story someday!
  10. Nov 19, 2008 #9
    Maybe the husband understands that sane people are disgusted by nepotism...

    But what is it in your part that you could've done differently?
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