The semester has begun; I had my first course yesterday. And I am happy to say that I’ve started to reconnect with colleagues this week, including a few that I haven’t seen all summer.
We mostly had the usual conversations about respective summers (and about this unprecedented election season), but I also got into a longer (and more substantive) discussion with a faculty member (in a different field, an important variable) about the relative value of postdoctoral fellowships and tenure-track jobs for new Ph D ‘s.
He advises his students to focus on jobs, not postdocs. He’s skeptical of the entire postdoc thing for several reasons: the way it can be deployed by universities as an almost exploitative cost-cutting measure and at the expense of more secure tenure-track offerings (my fellow Brainstorm blogger, Marc Bousquet, could say more about that), and because it runs the risk of trapping some people out of the job market and into a secondary track of consecutive postdocs and adjunct positions.
I was arguing that a postdoctoral fellowship can actually increase one’s value on the market in subsequent years (which he grudgingly conceded, a little), and that two- or three-year postdocs give people a kind of head-start in the tenure-track rat-race. My dissertation adviser was a proponent of the postdoc (at least as a potentially viable option), and she’s made me one, too.
I was fortunate enough to have a three-year postdoc that allowed me to turn my dissertation into a book, start research on a second project, and even dabble in some orthogonal intellectual interests — and all that before I had to serve on my first thesis committee, teach a single course, or attend monthly faculty meetings.
Even the right one-year post doc (without unreasonable teaching expectations) can get that dissertation housed at a publisher and a little more ready for prime-time.
I thought I’d made a compelling case, but this colleague still walked away skeptical, which made me wonder. Am I overstaing my case? Might it work differently for different fields in the humanities and the social sciences? For different kinds of academics? Are there other factors at play?
(Cross-posted with The Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm Blog)