As a recent graduate, I am worried about the transition from student to scientist. Peter J. Feibelman’s book is a quick, entertaining read offering advice on just this subject. His background differs from mine—physics as opposed to computer science—but I imagine much of the advice still holds. He raises many issues I would have never considered. I wouldn’t want to give a summary of everything he discusses, but two topics that were of particular interest to me.
According to Feibelman, your years as a postdoc are the most important of your scientific career. The work you accomplish and the contacts you make are what will determine the permanent research position you obtain. He offers two pieces of advice for a successful postdoc. Finish at least one significant project during your tenure; a candidate who has completed a project will be a more appealing prospect to an employer than a candidate who has not quite completed a more ambitious task. Do not work on a project where the significant results will not be obtained until after you are gone. If you plan on having the postdoc for 18 months, then a project that will take two years is a bad idea.
Do not interact solely with your postdoc adviser; meet the other researchers and become involved in their work. You will be a better candidate if you can have strong recommendations from multiple researchers at your postdoc institution. These two pieces of advice—finish a project and diversify your interactions—appear to be good to me and I will make sure to follow them.
He also discussed the difficulty in obtaining tenure and advised against taking an assistant professorship even if you want an academic career. It is better to take a purely research focused position first and then obtain a tenured position once you have established yourself. His main reason is that the responsibilities of a professor outside of research amount to a nearly full time job. By working at a research institute, you can accomplish the same amount of research in much less time than in an academic setting due to the fewer outside distractions.
While I can certainly follow the logic, I do not know enough to evaluate the validity of this advice. In some ways, it feels like cheating; you end up with a tenured position, but skip the messy bits like 80 hour work weeks and divorce. Is this a feasible career path in all fields?