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I need career help/advice -- Frustrated by publication delays, Post-Doc or Industry next?

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  • Thread starter gonadas91
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi all, it is me again and I am sorry for what I am going to tell, but I am just a bit discouraged and lost and felt the urge to look for support somewhere in the community, so I do accept any kind of criticism that might help me to get out from this situation.


I submitted my PhD thesis in December, had my PhD viva in April-May, and received very good feedback from my examiners. They both said my results should be published in high impact factor journals, yet I am awaiting for me and my supervisor to publish our first paper, which always seems to get delayed more and more... I was so discouraged to be without publications after having my viva, and to feel that our work would never get published on time, that I started looking for industry positions in very different fields like finance... There is where I crashed against the hard reality, getting interviews for a good number of well known prestigious companies, getting even to the last stages but being always rejected due to my lack of finance knowledge along with many other variables. The bad thing is that I was so discouraged with not publishing my results that I felt like a total time loss to apply for potential Post-Doc positions, therefore I focused to apply only for industry positions from May till early September. During this time, communication with my advisor was broken.. I love Physics, I have always loved it and I've been told that I am good at it... but somehow I cannot find my place anywhere. After 4 months of failure trying to get jobs in industry, it also served me to realise how much I care about physics and how much I value a potential future in the field rather than working on something I am not interested at all...Then I decided to come back to my supervisor (we didn't communicate after my viva at all), and he received me like nothing had happened, saying we will get our paper published soon and, to my surprise, he introduced corrections in the draft for the first time in a year time.


My situation is that I am jobless for almost a year now, and I have found myself very confused towards my future career aspirations and which path should I take, and I have decided not to give up on the academic path yet... I have been working on some parts of my thesis that are still open to answers, but when I have applied for Post-Docs, I have received no reply, as expected, not even rejection letters. I totally think my lack of publications is the problem, and when I always told my advisor about it, he said that also references count a lot and that I shouldn't worry too much...but we all know how competitive the Post-Doc market is, and that nowadays not publishing results from PhD is a failure. I just seek for advice here, is it really that difficult to get a Post-Doc position without publications? I was always told the opposite...I just find myself miserable and to the rest of people (if you know what I mean, worried family and friends, seeing you as a failure...) I have firmly decided to continue applying for research roles, but our publication is getting delayed since we are waiting for one collaborator to write some text on his contribution part... I appreciate any kind of advice or criticism, what would you do in my situation, and similar experiences you might have heard of or even lived on your own. Thank you very much for your help and support
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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You might try to look for a different kind of industry position. Meaning, not one in finance, but one for which your physics background is more directly applicable.
 
  • #3
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I don't think you should feel discouraged. I believe that your chances to get a post-doc position would increase significantly if you could get one or more papers published. Maybe, you or your professor could put some pressure on the collaborator to finish his part.
 
  • #4
Päällikkö
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Probably "academic guidance" is a better home for this thread given you are aiming for a postdoc rather than industry.

I've never quite understood how universities in the UK (I assume this is where you've graduated from given the mention of a viva) let people graduate without any publications: Most other countries I know about have a minimum amount of publications set at three or so (though it is not uncommon for gratuates to be in the double digits in their publication count by the time they graduate) before one can even attempt a defence. I acknowledge that the number of publications are not the end all, be all to measurement of scientific impact, nor should it be, but it is such an important part of what academia is that I find the lack of focus on it found in certain locations disturbing and damaging to students', like yours, future aspirations.

With that, you are probably not competitive in the international post-doc market, in particular, and should likely try and stay in the same country for your first posting.

As for any actionable advice which doesn't involve a time machine: You seem to have taken a very passive stance with regards to the publication. It doesn't just happen automatically now that you've handed in a draft to your supervisor, nor does getting a draft mean that it will be accepted to a given journal. You should keep in regular contact, making sure progress towards a final draft and a submission is being made. Explain your situation to them and agree on submission deadlines. To add a bit of pressure, try and finish up all the other bits related to the submission (and make sure the advisor knows you've prepared all this), from selecting the first journal you're going to try, making sure the draft is stylized according to their guidelines, thinking up a list of names for potential referees to suggest and typing up the cover letter.
 
  • #5
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I think it is possible to find a postdoc position based on your PhD thesis, and mention that you are preparing some papers to publish, but the question is: then what? To become a professor in the academia you need a large number of publications in top-tier journals as it is very competitive. To do so, you need to do multiple postdoc/research positions, which are usually short term (6 months to a year) and not well-paid, and you have to keep re-locating, possibly for each single contract. The problem in the industry is that they need practical experience, but I think once you land your first job, things will be easier. What skills do you have, and why did you choose fiance?
 
  • #6
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The road to your first full time job is fraught with potholes. Sometimes, the jobs you apply to are not the right ones for your skills. Sometimes you are either under qualified or overqualified for the job.

I know most folks don't believe that overqualified has any effect but it does. Personnel managers are measured by how well the newly hired candidate matches expectations and if they hire someone and he/she quits then the personnel manager gets a black mark. My friend had just gotten his degree and was rejected by a local company but he convinced the personnel manager that he really wanted to work there and that this was his dream job. And it was until IBM came knocking and then it was see ya around. The personnel manager told him he knew it, he just knew he would be snapped up but against his better judgement he hired him and now he had to go searching again for tat right candidate and I'm sure wouldn't take a chance again.

In your case, you are stressing about too many things. Okay so you have a paper in waiting and the wheels of approval are going slow. Given the free time you have, you can be learning some new skills as well as applying to jobs. Many physics folks get into programming as a good paying means to support yourself. You could also get a part-time job somewhere to make ends meet or even try to find something on campus through your advisor perhaps while you wait.

However, all these feelings of failure and how others are going to think should be cast aside as they don't contribute to helping you get a job and in fact may be hindering. You need to have confidence in what you've learned. You know your advisor hasn't rejected your paper and so you know it must be good enough so just hang in there and find something useful to do.

You could also try journaling your experience and your feelings. Sometimes just writing down things can help you find perspective and a way forward.
 
  • #7
Dr Transport
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Most other countries I know about have a minimum amount of publications set at three or so (though it is not uncommon for gratuates to be in the double digits in their publication count by the time they graduate) before one can even attempt a defence.
Not true, I had 0 publications while I was getting my PhD and due to professional disagreements between my advisor and the funding agency, we decided to shelve 5 papers. I had no aspirations for an academic career and it wasn't necessary to get me where I am today.
 
  • #8
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Thank you all for your replies, I considered giving a bit more of information on my current situation, since I defended my thesis I have left the country, so that means there is no possibility to do a part time job at the university or similars. This also means that communication with my supervisor, among other faculty members is of course difficult now, not as easy as to knock their door and have a chat. I know this has been probably a terrible management from myself of the situation.

I have just found myself living at my parents place again, in the look for new opportunities. It is true that in so many interviews,I went through the process till the last stage, but I have always been rejected in the end. Respect to career prospects, of course I would say 99% of people pursuing Post-Docs aspire to have faculty positions in the future, however, due to my current situation the long term horizon is not something that worries me too much, I can deal with the idea of commuting for the next years (despite the fact of having a partner, but that is a different story).
 
  • #9
Choppy
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A lot of post-doctoral hiring decisions can come down to the specific skill set that you bring to the table, rather than your publication list. I mean sure, publications play a role in the hiring decision, but in my experience post-docs are often hired to work on very specific projects. The PI has a year or two of funding to do accomplish a specific set of goals and so when they look to hire, they want someone who's going to spend that time advancing the project rather than climbing the learning curve. If they need Monte Carlo simulations performed, they hiring someone who can do Monte Carlo simulations, if they want to create an artificial neural network to comb through a mountain of data, they hire someone who's programmed an artificial neural network, if they need to fabricate a new device... etc.

I'm not sure how much this will help in your situation, but where networking can really help is if you can start talking to someone in a position to apply for a grant well before you want to start the post-doc position, that's the ideal place to be in. You go to someone who has experience in getting grants in the field you're interested in and help that person write a grant for some kind of mutual research interest that you have and you essentially create a position for yourself. They key is having that connection in the first place though. And of course, time is important. This is the kind of approach that works well when you're thinking about it say about a year or so before you want to actually start in the position.

Another idea that can help is attending conferences. I know this isn't easy when you're no longer a student and cashflow is tight, but that's where you network. That's where you find out who's working on what and what skill sets people are looking for. If you're interested in some kind of quantitative finance position, you might want to look for a conference or workshop in that sector. That will give you the opportunity to talk to people working in it, and figure out where you're strengths and weaknesses are... rather than finding this out at the later stages of an interview process.
 
  • #10
f95toli
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I've never quite understood how universities in the UK (I assume this is where you've graduated from given the mention of a viva) let people graduate without any publications: Most other countries I know about have a minimum amount of publications set at three or so (though it is not uncommon for gratuates to be in the double digits in their publication count by the time they graduate) before one can even attempt a defence. I acknowledge that the number of publications are not the end all, be all to measurement of scientific impact, nor should it be, but it is such an important part of what academia is that I find the lack of focus on it found in certain locations disturbing and damaging to students', like yours, future aspirations.

With that, you are probably not competitive in the international post-doc market, in particular, and should likely try and stay in the same country for your first posting.
It it due to a combination of traditions and system. A UK thesis tends to be VERY extensive (usually >100 pages) compared to many other countries (where the thesis can be quite short and tends to serve as an introduction to the papers) and can in many cases include original results that were never published.
Another difference is of course that most students only have 3 years to complete their project (the CDTs are four years, but the first year is only courses), it takes ~6 months to write the thesis meaning you only have 2.5 years which is not much. You are doing quite well if you manage to get one paper published as a first author before your viva.

And yes, the fact that the students are not competitive as post-docs is well known. Many end up doing a 1-2 year post-doc at a UK university before going abroad for a 2nd post-doc (having done a post-doc abroad tends to be VERY helpful when applying for positions at the universities or applying for funding from EPSRC).
 

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