About doing a postdoc

Speaking from personal experience, postdoctoral positions are an essential part of a researcher training that I recommend to all my PhD students, even though they do not always follow this recommendation, and rank high when hiring new faculty! Especially recommended in our French academic structure where

  1. PhD students may complete their PhD as early as 25 or 26,
  2.  the local job market is rather favourable to statisticians,
  3.  regular university positions are tenured from the start, but
  4.  involve a heavy teaching load…
  5. and do pay less than a postdoc in many countries!

Unless family issues are preventing one from spending one or two years abroad, the experience brought by spending this time in a foreign department with a different academic culture is almost invariably highly positive. And this for many reasons: a high level of freedom and time for conducting research, most often no teaching, writing papers and fattening one’s vita, no administrative burden, usually in a prestigious institution with a top quality research group, the opportunity to start collaborations with more senior researchers, limited or no teaching, sometimes the opportunity of learning a new (human/computer) language, the possibility of discovering a new country, did I mention not teaching?!, etc. Even though sabbatical years are available in most academic systems, this is clearly the freest of all times in one’s life and taking the opportunity of a postdoc can shape one’s academic and non-academic future! So, unless there are no postdoc positions available anywhere appealing (!), or those offered are in a topic that sounds too far from one’s PhD research, there are few reasons to miss the benefits and the fun of doing a postdoc. I consider that doing a postdoc (in Purdue then in Cornell, terrific experiences both!) was one of the best and most influential decisions in my whole life. (This sounds a bit too much like a travel brochure, but this was my answer to Luke Bornn’s question “In what circumstances would you recommend your students do a post-doc?  In what circumstances is a post-doc not the best choice for graduates?” for the June ISBA Bulletin!)

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