Generalizing the Postdoc Position

A traditional postdoc filler seeks to transition to a different role, that of professor or staff. What if someone were to specialize in this kind of role, e.g. for a certain kind of project in a certain kind (e.g. group size) of research environment?

Such a position would be akin to the modern \(\approx\) 1-3 yr startup position specialized to a certain growth stage of a startup. In Silicon Valley, for instance, it’s not uncommon for someone to specialize in a certain role for a certain class of company and to change jobs once the company essentially becomes a different (class of) company.1

There are numerous factors, such as the lack of geographic concentration of relevant positions – someone with such a specialization may thrive in the Boston area but not elsewhere, similar to how the startup-role someone may not thrive outside Silicon Valley, although remote-friendly roles could mitigate this – and massive gaps in typical compensation levels, that pummel the analogy here. And there are policy factors, such as many institutions limiting postdoctoral applicants to those who have received their PhD no more than N years ago, that structurally inhibit such a generalization of the postdoc role.

Imagine, though, a generalization of the postdoc role to that of an “employed consultant” who may expect to transition from client to client, i.e. employer to employer, while increasing their specialized expertise (and compensation) over the course of their career.

Thus, someone not interested in running a business on top of building and exercising their hands-on expertise – marketing, sales, managing client relationships, invoicing, etc. – can nonetheless thrive without needing to transition to a management/supervisory role, e.g. that of a professor or group lead that is responsible for hiring, securing funding, etc. in ways that detract from the personal performance of research activities.

  1. J. Stark, “Swizec Teller - The Employed Consultant,” Ditching Hourly, no. 256, Nov. 30, 2021. [Online]. Available ↩︎