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09/01/2021

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Annie

Could the OP say what it is they think would give away to search committees that the position is unpaid/nominal?

Chris

I am a 'Postdoctoral Researcher' with my former PhD program, but this is a paid position. Like Marcus, I thought unpaid positions/affiliations of the type the reader describes were usually called 'Visiting Scholar', 'Honorary Research Fellow', or something of the sort that makes their nature clear.

For this reason, I would read 'Postdoctoral Researcher' (or similar) as denoting a paid position, unless otherwise specified, and assume others would too. If this is right then it would be a misleading title for an unpaid affiliation.

Michel

Annie: To my mind, the obvious tell is that it's a postdoc in one's PhD-granting department.

If it's in a different department, I'm inclined to think it's real, especially if the candidate is interdisciplinarily-oriented.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn't give a home-postdoc any weight, but I also wouldn't count it against a candidate (but nor would I count a gap against them!)--you have to get that library accesss somehow, after all, and it's good if your department is willing to help with that. But I do think it's a bad thing for them to be pretending it's something that it isn't.

I know of one prominent department that advertises a paid postdoc or two in PhilJobs every couple of years, but who almost always gives it to one of their unemployed grads. I'm glad they can help their grads, and it's good that they do. But I think that going about it that way is pretty bad, and causes a fair bit more harm (certainly, far more than it needs to!).

Tom

It’s not on you, as a candidate, to anticipate all imaginable ways a committee member might mistake what’s on your cv for something else. If the position is literally call blah, and you list it as blah in your cv, you’ve done nothing dishonest. If folks interview you and it comes up you should tell the truth. But why would it?

anonymous tenure track at R1

Michel: that's not an obvious tell at all, since very many postdocs in home departments are paid, and a very common strategy for departments that can afford it to help their students with the horrible job market is to create paid postdoctoral positions for their students.

Also the OP seems to me to be wrong that it is as easy as they claim, at least in ordinary circumstances/in all the departments I'm familiar with, to just get yourself listed as a postdoctoral researcher in your home department.

One issue, for example, is this: my university, as well as *many* other universities, has a strict policy about postdoctoral compensation. You can't just stick "postdoctoral" on someone's title without also paying them the minimum salary for that position. And we, as well as many other universities, follow the NIH benchmark guidelines for minimum salary. I would be really surprised if most philosophy departments didn't run into issues like this with just listing people as postdocs without paying them. (I don't think it's ever occurred to anyone in my department to do that, but if someone tried, they would run into trouble with HR, the dean, the higher up administration, etc. immediately.)

So, just putting out there that I think unpaid positions that are correctly labeled 'postdoctoral' are probably not all that common. Universities have policies about this stuff.

Setting all this aside, though, I think it's sort of the wrong thing to focus on if there is an actual worry about it seeming deceptive. Why should we care (except for being upset at the state of the job market) if someone's postdoc is paid or not paid when we are evaluating them for our own job? I'd encourage people not to hold facts about employment history against candidates as much as possible.

Michel

anonymous: They might be paid, but I wouldn't consider it a proper postdoc on a par with something a candidate won in an open competition. I guess I didn't think the payment was the important part (I mean, it obviously is for the candidate, but I don't think that's the sticking point for a search committee!) So, inasmuch as having won a postdoc sends a signal to the committee, I don't think a postdoc in your home department--paid or unpaid--actually sends that particular signal, though it may well do other things for you (not least of them, maintaining library access!).

(But again, I don't think there's anything wrong with taking such a position if it's available.)

Prof L

Michel—
I have never heard of an “unpaid postdoc” and I suspect they don’t exist. It sounds like the OP just glanced at people’s CVs and assumed (for no apparent reason) that these positions are unpaid. And it matters, of course. A paid position looks a whole lot better than an unpaid—not to be mean about it, but presumably no one chooses an unpaid position unless they have no other option. It’s a sign of past difficulties getting any kind of job, while a paid position at ones graduate institution is not—its a desirable thing for a number of reasons. I can think of lots of reasons one would take such a postdoc position over an external one.

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