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After my PhD (Mechanical engineering) in 2013, I have been employed as a "visiting assistant professor-TERM" for 2013-2014 at the same university (in the USA). In this time I have been applying for several post-doc and faculty positions all around the world. The following fortuitous situation has now developed:

  • I was interviewed for a post doc position at a famed lab in Europe and received a job offer. This job offer is contingent on me getting security clearance for this lab and getting a long term visa. One of the ground rules laid out was I would not accept other post-doc positions.
  • Prior to this post-doc interview, I had interviewed for faculty position at US universities. Fortuitously a few weeks after this post-doc job offer, I have been offered full time faculty position at two other universities in the USA.
  • Now the reason I did apply for post-doc jobs is that they would help me build my network, publish more and help with an eventual faculty position!
  • I am in some moral quandary now: I know that I have given the post-doc PI my word and I will not renege on it. However, the faculty positions are definitely more lucrative and long term.
  • I accepted the post-doc job because I was asked to make a decision soon and since I am a foreigner, timing is everything for me and a "job in hand is worth two in the bush" Groans at quotation.

The options (likely and unlikely) that present themselves to me are:

  • Unlikely: Postpone the faculty positions to Fall of 2015. I don't think these universities would want to do that.
  • Likely: Angle for better pay/better title at the post-doc jobs.

I am hoping that given the experience in this forum, people could throw some light on this situation.

Edit: Advantages and disadvantages of these positions

Advantages and Disadv. of Postdoc:

  • (+) Great change of work, reputable lab, exposure to different work culture, deadlines, work pressure, expanding professional network on both sides of atlantic

  • (-)1-2 years only, relatively poor pay

Adv. and Disadv. of faculty position

  • (+) Faculty position nuf' said. Much Better pay, "long" term

  • (-) Will miss out on once in a lifetime post doc at great lab

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Just to be clear, if it were only up to you, you'd take the faculty position, right? –  Charles Morisset Feb 12 at 18:09
    
@CharlesMorisset If it were up to me, I would take the post-doc since I told them I wouldn't take other positions if offered (although it says "other post doc" jobs), the PI and I have an understanding that I won't accept other jobs. So it's a matter of not reneging vs "wow! Faculty position" –  drN Feb 12 at 18:10
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I'd just like to point out that you said "One of the ground rules laid out was I would not accept other post-doc positions," and note that this doesn't explicitly suggest you not apply for tenure track faculty positions. I'd also suggest that the deferring is a good idea to push even if you don't think it's likely. It is often surprising what people will concede in a faculty job search. For example, you could even suggest that you were going to bargain for higher pay, but you'd be willing to accept the pay they propose if they let you do this postdoc. –  MHH Feb 12 at 19:05
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"For example, you could even suggest that you were going to bargain for higher pay, but you'd be willing to accept the pay they propose if they let you do this postdoc." And when it comes time to bargain for higher pay, what should the OP do then?? It does not seem to be a rational decision to sign away salary in exchange for the opportunity to defer one's job. In any case, it is likely that the deferral is either feasible from a personnel perspective or it isn't; it does not seem like a good bargaining chip. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 12 at 20:04
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@MHH I'm with Pete here. Indeed, I think the right approach to take is not that this is a concession they are making you. You're saving them money by going and doing cool stuff and learning things on someone else's payroll and bringing that knowledge back to the university. They should ask you do the postdoc for a year or two (not that they will). –  Ben Webster Feb 12 at 21:30
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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

A job offer which is contingent on a visa and (especially) on a security clearance is not a present job offer but the promise of a future job offer if certain conditions are met. I had a PhD student who wanted to accept such a job, but his security clearance didn't come through in time for him to start the job (note: I'm not saying that he failed his security clearance; it just wasn't resolved in time, even though he started the procedure months in advance). Thank goodness my student was also pursuing other job offers: he is now in a one-year temporary position with the intent to start the aforementioned postdoc next year...still assuming his security clearance comes through.

I am a little confused about the "no other postdoc offers" clause. Surely it cannot be that just by applying for that job you promised not to apply for other postdocs? (Why would anyone apply for a job under those conditions??) And as I understand what you've wrote, you haven't signed any forms or officially accepted anything but only given your word to someone that you intend to take the job. (If you did intend to take this job, then as Ben Webster writes, you certainly should have written back to other jobs that interviewed you and informed them that you are off the market. That was a mistake. I wouldn't beat yourself up about it too much though: none of us gets much experience in these matters from the point of the job applicant. Later we get the rest of our career looking at things from the other side, and "the right thing to do" becomes increasingly clear.)

If you haven't formally accepted the postdoc -- and you can't do so before a security clearance comes through, in my understanding -- and the tenure-track job is much more desirable to you, than I think you are legally 100% in the clear in taking the tenure-track job. Ethically speaking: well, you haven't acted in the best possible way, as mentioned above, and I would not lightly go back on my word to a senior academic who did me a great service....so it shouldn't be a light decision, but in my opinion it would still be understandable and ultimately acceptable if you took the tenure-track job under these circumstances.

It would indeed be a classier move to explore the option of deferring the tenure track job and taking the postdoc for one academic year, or even one semester. Deferring a tenure track offer is quite common in the contemporary academic world: in my department (mathematics, University of Georgia) about half of our recent hires have completed a postdoc and arrived one year later, and recently we had someone start a one-year postdoc at UGA with a tenure-track job waiting for her afterwards (which she did then go on to take). You should understand though that that simply may not be possible for reasons having little or nothing to do with their desire to have you: the decision will probably be made rather on their ability to find personnel to cover your academic responsibilities.

Finally, it may also be a good idea to communicate your thoughts to your putative supervisor. Maybe she will be totally okay with it, and with her blessing your conscience should be pretty clear. Or maybe changing your mind will cause trouble for her in a way that you don't see. Either way it seems respectful to keep her informed.

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In this case, I'm not sure it's an issue of what's best for the employer. It's just basic etiquette that if you get one job, you immediately tell everywhere else you applied either that you would rather come there in hope of getting a counter-offer, or that you don't want to be considered any more. Really, the people who suffered in this situation are the ones who would have gotten the TT offers instead. –  Ben Webster Feb 12 at 20:46
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@Ben: I agree. But also the employer can suffer if, e.g., they do not get the chance to make another offer. And unfortunately, even basic etiquette is not so basic that everyone knows about it, hence the existence of books, advice columns, websites...(My parenthetical remark probably took things too far -- of course I still identify with the needs of job applicants rather than with the vagaries of upper university administration -- so I took it out.) –  Pete L. Clark Feb 12 at 21:17
    
@PeteL.Clark Thank you for your answer. How do I request for a deferment? I need to ensure that I project that my commitment to join the tenure track position in 2015 is strong (and it is)? –  drN Feb 13 at 15:36
    
@drN: You ask for a deferment and say that you are strongly committed to join the tenure track position in 2015. –  Pete L. Clark Feb 13 at 17:30
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Maybe I shouldn't start the answer with the judgey part, but if you don't feel like you can accept the faculty positions because of your previous commitment, why the hell didn't you pull your name from consideration the moment you accepted the European job? On my personal list of academic job hunting sins, not withdrawing your name from a position you've decided you can't accept is much worse than declining a postdoc offer for a TT. So, there's really no ethical choice at this point, so you may as well do what's best for you long term.

That said, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the possibility of starting the TT job with a delay. This is very common in mathematics (my field); I've done it, and I know dozens of other people who have as well. I can imagine reasons it would be harder in mechanical engineering, but it's worth a shot. An important thing to remember as a job candidate is that once you have the offer, the tables are reversed. They've shown their hand, they've made a time, financial and psychic investment in you, and their other candidates are slowly slipping away as they wait for your answer. They really want you to say yes, so a concession like letting you take an initial leave is a small one. After all, they don't even need to pay for it! Universities are very flexible about letting you do things if they don't have to pay for them.

I mean, really they should want you to do this, since you'll come to them better trained, with more fresh ideas, and a wider perspective. So sell it on those grounds, and I bet you'll succeed.

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Umm... whats a "TT"? Pull my name out - didn't occur to me. –  drN Feb 12 at 18:18
    
TT=tenure-track –  Ben Webster Feb 12 at 18:19
    
EEP! sorry. Should have put 1 and 1 together! –  drN Feb 12 at 18:19
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It's an inherent risk when hiring good postdocs that they could get a faculty job offer and leave. Take the faculty job offer and decline the postdoc offer. It's what almost everyone in your position would do.

(Trying to get a year off from the faculty job so you can work at the postdoc job for one year as promised is a very reasonable thing to do first. But I think it's generally a mistake to decline a faculty offer in favor of a postdoc job, unless you are very confident you can get an equal or better faculty offer in the near future.)

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Definitely agree with this. The post-doc PI will understand. No reasonable person in your position would turn down a TT position. Also, have you considered telling the post-doc PI your situation? I imagine he'd tell you to go for it. You know the situation best, but I can't imagine you'd really be burning any bridges in doing what everyone recognizes is best for you in the long term. –  Trevor Feb 12 at 23:27
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@Matt Reece: There are people who some form of an ethical code you know? As outlined in the question he does not want to renege on his promise. The idea mentioned by Trevor does seem to be a perfect one though. Discuss it with the Europe university. If you can't postpone the faculty position (which sounds perfect, but you would have to find out quickly) just ask whether you could withdraw after all. In the end they still are humans and humans tend to be surprisingly understanding. And if not, then indeed you're bound by your word. –  David Mulder Feb 13 at 10:07
    
@Trevor Thank you for your perspective. –  drN Feb 13 at 13:22
    
@DavidMulder Yes, that is my next step -- speak with the post doc PI. –  drN Feb 13 at 13:22
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