After the thesis, why do a post-doctorate?


From the collection of data to the promotion of its work through the publication of a first scientific article, The experience of the thesis in management documents the challenges facing doctoral students. Based on feedback from young researchers, the book’s coordinators, Hugo Gaillard, Julien Cloarec, Juliette Senn and Albane Grandazzi, invite readers to put into perspective the questions that arise at each stage of their journey. Below, here is an excerpt from the fifth part of the book devoted to the choice of pursuing a postdoctorate.

Good reasons to do a postdoc

Rather than a contract, it would be more appropriate to speak of a transition period between the thesis and taking up the post, as described in the recent Research Code which rules on the various “specific terms of scientific employment  . In practice, the path can be long and strewn with pitfalls, especially since it already occurs after the long period of the thesis . This transition seems to us to be a good choice if the postdoc gives the right tools to obtain the position you are then aiming for. It should therefore be considered as a first step in his career. Indeed, “doing a postdoc for the sake of doing a postdoc” is not a good option. On the other hand, three reasons seem to us to be particularly relevant for continuing along this path.

a) Skills development to find a position

The postdoc is above all a good way to complete one’s research profile, which often involves the publication of work related to the thesis, and the aptly named “job market paper” in the Anglo-Saxon world. The postdoc trend is therefore largely supported by the need to publish in the era of “publish or perish” . This is therefore an opportunity to publish the results of your thesis, for example, or of another research project started in parallel. As explained above in the introduction, it is not from this perspective a means of delaying the taking up of position, encouraging indecisive postures.

However, it would be biased to only think of the postdoc through research. It makes it possible to complete one’s profile in all its aspects, for example that of teaching in the event that little has been taught: for example, during CIFRE theses where teaching is optional. It also allows you to develop your “network”, namely to integrate into French and international scientific communities. Thus, the postdoc will be able to build a status in his community, which may offer him career opportunities.

Finally, there is a privileged moment for his job search: a way of managing the “queue” resulting from the fact that there are many more doctors than positions available. Lecturer positions (MCFs) have been in decline for the past 10 years as the number of qualified applicants increases, although it depends on the disciplines. For example, it is very difficult to find candidates in accounting. Furthermore, it makes it possible to respond to an internationalization of the labor market, in particular in schools where recruitment extends far beyond our borders: French doctoral students, having defended their doctoral thesis in university, are in competition with PhDs who have four to five years of experience, with publications already integrated into their thesis. From this point of view, Engaging in a postdoc after obtaining a French doctorate may seem logical if one wishes to obtain a position in a school where recruitment is highly internationalized. Note that the postdoc is also common for PhDs who already have 4 to 5 years of experience.

b) Cultivate the international dimension

The evolution of doctoral training encourages an international academic culture. However, doing a postdoc does not necessarily imply going to a foreign country. It all depends on where you want to pursue your career. Going abroad during the postdoctoral period can indeed seem like an asset: teaching style, new ideas that shape the research work, or exposure to a different academic culture. The international dimension is above all synonymous with new connections with other international researchers, opening the doors to more co-writing opportunities in particular. In this, it is above all a broadening of research perspectives, of the visibility of his work, and of the codes learned up to now. However, we think it is important to mention that “internationalizing” your postdoc is also possible by staying in your country of origin. For example, many major business schools are integrated into international networks through their recruitment. The researcher can therefore engage in this international dimension at several levels.

c) The emancipation of the young researcher

Finally, one of the undeniable assets of the postdoc is to emancipate oneself from their original laboratory, from their thesis supervisor , to affirm their project, and ultimately, to contribute greatly to building their academic identity. . For Olivier Germain and Laurent Taskin “any relationship between the director and his doctoral student should constitute a space of emancipation and confrontation”, discussing the study by Wright, Murray and Geale on the typology of the roles of thesis directors and their purposes.

Indeed, the doctorate in France remains very marked by the visible presence of a thesis supervisor. This person guides both the research and the academic networks in which “his” doctoral student (the possessive pronoun being itself revealing) is part of. Even if we note significant developments on this point, in particular with the strong increase in theses co-directed over the past ten years, or by the establishment of thesis committees which follow the development of the doctoral student with external professors, there is no the fact remains that the French-style doctorate still favors a bilateral relationship. We do not wish to criticize this aspect: it is also here that the beauty of academic companionship comes into play, in our view, even if it is not exempt from certain abuses, and we can only deplore this. However,

Moreover, beyond this identity aspect, it will also bring him new working methods, the functioning of a department, a research team, theoretical traditions that can be complementary. Relations between colleagues, the research and teaching environment, relations with students are points that can vary greatly from one institution to another. The postdoc therefore makes it possible to develop one’s research, which can be seen as a learning process that sometimes stretches up to several years after obtaining the doctorate ( Höhle and Teichler, 2013). This process structures the identity of the researcher. In this, the postdoc makes it possible to develop its own scientific identity and to get out of what is sometimes considered as the “cut” of the thesis director.

In this sense, the postdoc can help you know what to aim for precisely in your job search. According to the feedback we have, it is sometimes necessary to refine one’s professional project, by discovering other academic universes. It is therefore a balancing act between finding a postdoc consistent with his professional project, while maintaining a certain latitude to develop it.

1.2. The risks and pitfalls

However, we are aware that the postdoc is often necessary to obtain a position, as the requirements are multiple and high and sometimes contradictory: to have conducted quality doctoral research, to have published during your thesis or to show already well-developed publication projects. , have taught a sufficient number of hours to a variety of audiences, be integrated into the networks of their scientific community, be involved in the life of their department and/or team, etc. The postdoc would therefore be the often essential step, and sometimes unwanted by the doctoral student himself, to build what is often called a profile of the “five-legged sheep”. As such, it entails a number of risks and pitfalls, which we believe are particularly important to discuss here.

a) The postdoc, in search of lost time?

First of all, the postdoc presents the risk of not negotiating the exact content of his post, in particular his research time. The activities are often mixed between collective and personal research, laboratory services, missions rather oriented towards project management, the organization of scientific events or for professionals. It is then easy to get lost. What balance should we aim for between all these elements? It is important to explain the research time you want to have when negotiating your position. This is an important condition to accept or not the proposal you will have. According to our experience and that of our young colleagues, having 50% of the time dedicated to personal research in a postdoc constitutes a good balance. This figure could seem high in certain institutional contexts, but it is often essential to push your post-thesis projects and find a permanent position. This really places the postdoctoral fellow in the position of a teacher-researcher, ready to start his first academic position.

b) Commitment to an institution

The postdoc is often seen as a precious time to concentrate on one’s intellectual development, sometimes by favoring certain aspects over others. Unlike a teacher-researcher position, it is not surprising to observe a more minimal participation in the life of the institution: administrative responsibilities, supervision project, teaching program, service and even the affective attachment should not be comparable between the postdoctorate and the position. Our intention here is not to discourage investment in the postdoc institution, quite the contrary, but to always ensure that a certain balance is respected between this institutional commitment and the development of your research.

In particular, if the young doctor finds himself well identified in an institution, a kind of “over” commitment is sometimes the natural inclination that many colleagues take. Without presaging bad intentions on the part of the institutions that host them, postdoctoral researchers are rarely encouraged, and even less obliged, to devote time to preparing for a future position. The distributed and often individual working methods of the academic profession do not make it possible to show all these elements in the eyes of the institution that employs you. However, finding and preparing to take up a position is an essential strategy. Here too, it is up to the postdoc to find the right balance between his personal research, which he must protect,

c) Personal reasons

The decision to do a postdoc is intrinsically linked to our conditions and our personal life stages. It may seem obvious, but to succeed in your postdoc, you have to be able to do it in good conditions, with the aim of looking for a job afterwards. The precariousness of this type of contract is all too often highlighted, but the situations vary from one institution to another. His personal situation, in particular his marital situation, but also his family and friendship situation, is essential to consider. In our opinion, it should not remain one of the many elements in the balance, but offer the conditions of possibility for a successful postdoc.

By comparing our respective experiences, we can, for example, find many tensions characterized by the status of female researcher which reveal a tendency to make the question of gender invisible in academic careers. Work-life balance is often constructed as an impossible and career-detrimental task for women ( Toffoletti and Starr, 2016 ). Maternity, for example, is often postponed until obtaining a permanent position (see, for example, Huppatz et al., 2019). Another example, the couples can be at a distance, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of kilometers. Our intention here is not to give a personal opinion, or a guide to conduct. However, it seems important to us to have these elements in mind to make an informed choice. The postdoc can open professional doors. It remains to be seen at what price…

Author Bios: Albane Grandazzi is Assistant Professor at Grenoble School of Management (GEM) and Juliette Senn is Assistant Professor at Montpellier Business School

Editors: Hugo Gaillard is a Lecturer in Management Sciences at Le Mans University and Julien Cloarec is Assistant Professor of Data Science at Iae Lyon School of Management – ​​Jean Moulin Lyon 3 University