Does a post-doc make one less employable?


I'm going to graduate from my Phd on education. I have one publication in a top journal in the field. Professors in my field told me that it's very hard to get a job as an assistant professor directly after finishing a phd. Exceptions aside, local universities abide to the RAE standard in employing academic staff in the research track, thus requiring applicants to have at least 3 or 4 articles published in top journal. This requirement is almost impossible to reach (at least for me). If I want to stay in the game, I probably need to do a post-doc, or do a teaching job but publish in my free time. When I see my phd in terms of career advancement, I feel I have kind of "wasted" my time and I feel stuck in the middle of nowhere because a phd degree neither helps me get to the next career level nor helps me get better paid in the teaching jobs that I could have done with a masters.

So, is it worth it to continue investing in another 2 years in a post-doc? will a post-doc further make me less employable for other jobs that I could have done? Should I quit the academia now and try to get back to the kind of jobs I could have done (e.g. language teaching) and build my career from there?

A little background about me: I'm a qualified english teacher, 33 years old, and am under the pressure of supporting my family. I also have plans to have a baby in a year or so. I don't need a high-paying job but do need some sort of stability in income.

Please share your views and experience. Thanks!


It sounds as though this has come as a bit of a shock to you. I'm sorry if you'd assumed that it would be a straightforward move into a lectureship. Although I think education is less competitive that the other social sciences, I think if you want a research-based lectuership rather than doing the PGCE / teacher training side, then the advice you're getting is probably correct.
How much do you actually want a lectureship? Are you prepared to apply internationally, take a series of temporary jobs etc? The thing that makes me wonder whether the very insecure early career academic path is right for you, is that you say you need financial stability and I'm guessing with family that you might not be able to relocate easily. I can't describe my own path to a permanent post or that of friends as financially stable, and most of us clocked up several long-distance moves in the process. To be brutally honest, unless you really want a lectureship above anything else, then it's probably not worth it (and be realistic about what the job entails in terms of pressure on family life). Also, don't assume getting a postdoc is easy - the schemes that I can think of that you could apply to with a PhD in education are very very competitive.
I hope that whatever you decide though, that you won't continue to see your PhD as a waste. Even if you don't use it directly to secure employment, it's still a great achievement.


Hi Karrol! I took your survey. :-) Gender and academia is actually a "hot topic" right now, and the questions you're posing are interesting on many levels.

I don't know much about life, but while trying to figure out what to do, maybe an important question to ask yourself is, "What do I really want?" I didn't get a sense of that from your post. If academia is your "dream", then you have to go for it and do the post-doc, or else you may end up resenting your family for holding you back.

If you're pursuing academia with lukewarm passion, then forget the post-doc, and consider all the other directions you can take with an Education degree (policy, research, administration, etc.). There are a lot of possibilities in both the commercial and non-profit sectors.

I completely understand about the need to be pragmatic and support your family, but perhaps factoring in your own happiness is important too.


Hi Karrol, reading your post makes one wonder what is the point in it at all, however, if we all gave up at the
First point of trouble, where would be all at?.

Nevertheless, i wonder if you have concidered a social enterprise business in your field of education, this wil give you a job and an income to support your family and still apply what you have learnt and be able to publish the other two that you need.

All the best......xxxx


I found being a post doc did make finding employment afterwards very difficult. Non academic employers really don't understand too much about the skills and training with many making all kinds of assumptions about what it was like to work in academia. If you do a quick search for my name you can read about the problems I faced when my academic career ground to a halt, which wasn't just about money and career, but also about how my relationships with others suffered.

Even harder were all the comments from people saying 'welcome to the real world', or similar. One hard barrier was the lack of employer valued experience which made me both over and underqualified at the same time. The other was my own assumptions about post academic life, that I was somehow a failure for not staying at university in a proper uni job and the shame at having to take jobs beneath me. Truth is I had stupidly equated more education as deserving of better career prospects, rather than understood that the PhD/post doc process had made me so superspecialised as to be practically irrelevant to everyone else.

Its not been all bad though. What I liked about leaving academia was no longer having the anxiety of having to live from year to year on short term contracts, not feeling the constant fear of not publishing enough and the way I am not reliant on having to play petty academic games any more. While my post ac-career has been a rollercoaster thanks to the recession I can at least have some degree of stability and planning for the future. (Very few of my post doc friends have been able to do this despite working at a top 10 UK institutions).

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I got a lectureship straight after my PhD. I was very lucky and it was my (one) publication that got me the job, which was actually a publication from my masters dissertation.

Having done the job for nearly a year I would actually advise doing a postdoc instead! I know the lectureship offers security and progression, which is amazing. BUT I have had 0 time to do any research during term time, its been ALL about the teaching, I'm hoping to sort this out this year, but it has been very stressful - I'm now using the next 4 weeks to desperately try and get *something* submitted into a journal. I kinda wish I'd had a year or two purely focused on research in a post doc to get some more publications under my belt.

I also feel very unsupported. I've gone from having a supervisor to having no one, at all, I have no one to talk to or offer me advice about my writing, its all up to me, and although I do ask my old sup for advice, she's at a different uni and I feel like its my time to move on and not annoy her! So actually developing my publication skills in a post doc would have been really really useful.


Sorry to hear that sneaks. Is it not likely to be easier for you to do research in the next academic year and then more the year after due to having sorted quite a lot of "lecture plans" etc?

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Yes, I've made a massive effort to nab good teaching slots - looks like I should have got most of my teaching done before xmas this year, with just 4 lectures after xmas. I've also tried to shift seminars onto PhD students (sorry!) which also entails marking essays, which took up a massive amount of time last year.

I'm told its the same for most 1st year lecturers though - its just a busy year.

Its the support I'm struggling with now though. I have no one to ask for advice about writing etc. But I'm putting my big girl pants on and going to train myself up a bit. Part of the problem is not reading anything much since about a year ago! The last year was spent editing, not reading, and I think i've got a bit rusty with it all.


I'm going to be shooting straight for lecturer posts, but then I've started my PhD at a late age (I'm 42 now).


Remember that if you do a postdoc now, at the age of 33, for 2 years, this is it for you. You can't change your career later on. You are an academic.

If you want to go to the private sector, you are really pushing it now. You are 33 and assuming that almost zero relevant work experience? You have got 2 more years to go into the private sector. After that, you are looking at a career as one of the supporting guys, not one of the main guys that change the world/make a difference to a business/community/society.

It's of crucial of importance to understand that the decisions you make in your 30s have a long long lasting impact on your career and finance later in your life.