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Is it a good idea to do a uni postdoc without publishing?

  1. May 22, 2015 #1
    Some university research groups offer postdoctoral positions sponsored by industry and focused on industrial R&D. That means mostly technical work and little-to-no publishing. Also such positions often don't have strict time limits, allowing postdocs to stay as long as this arrangement remains profitable for the industry, which can mean years or even decades. Do you think it might be a good idea to try to become a long-term university-based R&D postdoc instead of trying to publish and secure tenure? Do you think this practice will become more widespread in the future, offering industry lower cost R&D personnel and access to university infrastructure, while simultaneously providing extra revenue stream for universities?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2015 #2


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    I think you'd have to evalue each position on a case by case basis. An association with a commercial company doesn't necessarily prohibit one from publishing. In my field companies are well aware that peer-reviewed evidence on the performance of their products is ultimately what will make or break their mainstream acceptance and adoption. Further they are aware that to get the best researchers working for them, they will have to allow the researchers to publish. The main issues that come up are more of (i) any research that is sponsored by a commercial company carries with it a conflict of interest that must be disclosed, and (b) the company may not with to publish certain proprietary information, which could inhibit one's work.

    Another dimension to consider with an industrial association is that you may give up certain intellectual property rights. In principle, if you invent something over this time period, the company may have a legal claim to. The advantage though, is that in practice, you have a venue for producing your idea. You may eventually negotiate a deal when the company will produce something and as the inventor you will get a percentage of the profits or a royalty or whatever. And 50% of something is usually better than 100% of nothing.

    As for what a person faced with accepting such a position should decide, I think the decision has to be evaluated in context. What other options are on the table at the time? You could hold out for an ideal post-doc that doesn't come. Or this could be one option of many where you have to figure out which option is going to fit best with your long term goals.

    Are we likely to see more of this in the future? That's hard to say. Investment in research is well known to be profitable in the long term, but over the short term it can be seen as money that's thrown away.
  4. May 23, 2015 #3
    Dear Choppy, thank for so much for your detailed answer! In my case it is "an option of many" where I have little understanding "which option is going to fit best with the long term goals". My main long term goal to support my family of 4, while getting a minimum of postdoc-level income, preferably until retirement. Trying to get a job in industry or public service (or some other area that pays at least 80% of postdoc salary) did not lead to any interviews in the last 2 years. My friends who tried much harder to get out of academia (and had better marketable skills) are now all postdocs or unemployed. Of course I will continue networking, applying and re-skilling, but I am not very hopeful that I will be able to get a non-academic job anytime soon.

    Different options for me include:
    1) Getting an R&D postdoc that does not depend on grant funding and hoping to stay there as long as possible. I personally know 2 people who have been postdocs for over 17 years. Publishing is secondary to delivering an industrial product on time. Where does it lead me when the funding dries up and I can't get an R&D job elsewhere because I'm now too old? I have no idea.
    2) Staying in the group of my PhD for a while, co-supervising PhD students, publishing, teaching and applying for grants. Then, when the funding is over, applying for postdoc positions in the local area, mostly though my network. I don't think that I am good enough to get a tenure, but at least I might be able to continue getting postdocs for a while, meanwhile publishing several papers per year in 3<IF<10 journals. What to do after I get too old for further postdocs? Again, no idea.
    3) Trying to get a postdoc in a prestigious place, where people routinely publish in Nature (although relocating there with a family would be hard). Then trying to publish as high as possible and hunting for tenure-track positions. No guarantee of a tenured position (and I am not sure if I can ever be a great independent researcher), and likely worse off financially and emotionally during this ordeal compared to the first two options.

    Am I missing any alternatives? ;-)
  5. May 23, 2015 #4


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    Are all the options in Australia?
  6. May 23, 2015 #5
    1&2 - yes, 3 - doesn't seem to exist in Au, hence relocation is difficult. Getting something outside of academia might be more realistic outside of Au as well, but unlike postdocs, it will probably require some kind of work permit and local connections.
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