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> even if you wanted to you can't keep doing postdocs forever.

Why? I know an academic who has done exactly that. Nearing retirement now.

Many institutions have a hard rule that says you can't start a postdoc if you're more than 5 years out of your PhD program (discounting any time for parental leave, medical leaves of absence, etc.).

The usual approach in CS is that if someone wants to continue in a post-doc-esque role but has gained too much seniority, they get promoted to research scientist, or a similar title. That has higher pay but otherwise is structured fairly similarly (e.g. you can hire a research scientist on a grant as a "soft-money" position with a fixed-length contract). Some places even have additional pay grades above that, called e.g. Senior Research Scientist or Staff Scientist or Research Fellow (titles vary widely, as well as which titles are restricted to PhDs, versus open to people without PhDs). There are plenty of people who spend long periods as perma-research-scientists because they enjoy and/or are good at the position, and PIs are happy to keep hiring people who've developed a good reputation. In some of the larger departments, research scientists with a good reputation are de facto assured of ongoing employment despite the term-limited contracts, because someone who knows the ropes of this kind of job is enough in demand that if their current PI doesn't manage to snag a new grant to keep them on, someone else in the department will be happy to hire them away when their current contract expires. Besides it being useful to keep such a person around if you can afford it, some big grants, like those from DARPA, essentially require research scientists to be hired, because DARPA wants a contact who's a full-time professional researcher to interface with, not a professor / postdoc / gradstudent.

Does physics academia really not have another position you can promote someone to, if you want to keep paying them to do research for you, but they've "timed out" of the postdoc role? I had assumed this kind of research-scientist role wasn't CS-specific, since it's existed for a while, and at big universities, CS hasn't traditionally had the clout to invent completely new job titles, so hiring is usually mapped onto stuff that exists in some form or another at the institutional level.

Almost everywhere does this, and it is such an insane rule.

Not in the UK.

Postdocs at most universities pay little - often less than many engineers with a BS degree will make.

Eventually you need the money for retirement...

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